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Albanese Government delivers on promises with new water purchasing program for the environment

MEDIA RELEASE 
July 5, 2024

An alliance of leading environment organisations across Victoria, NSW, QLD and South Australia has strongly welcomed the resumption of voluntary water purchases to benefit rivers, wetlands and wildlife. 

The Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance, which represents close to half a million supporters across all Basin states, praised the announcement of Commonwealth tenders to buy 70 gigalitres of water from willing sellers, calling it an important milestone for the return to river health. 

Last year a contingent of farmers, fishers, First Nations people, ecologists and environment organisations delivered a petition of 10,000 signatures to Parliament House, calling for crucial changes to restore the Murray-Darling, including an expanded program of water buybacks. It’s important to recognise the community voice from across the Basin standing up for rivers and wetlands. 

Murray Darling Conservation Alliance National Director Craig Wilkins said: 

“It’s been a long time coming, but finally we are seeing the Commonwealth starting to buy water from willing sellers so it can stay in the rivers and help return them to health. This is an important milestone towards a flourishing Basin for Australia’s iconic fish, platypus, frogs and waterbirds. The whole community benefits when the rivers and wetlands are healthy.  

“These are not new targets for river health. They are the same Basin Plan targets that have been in place since 2012. After over a decade’s delay, Minister Plibersek is getting on with the job. Labor promised this at the last election, they negotiated with the states and Senate last year, and now they are delivering. 

 “Scientists have long held that the full delivery of the Plan’s water targets, including the 450 gigalitres, is the bare minimum required to give the Murray a decent chance of survival. 

 “Now, the government is making up for lost time. But with dire fish kills in the Coorong, it’s clear we don’t have a moment to lose.” 

Nature Conservation Council of NSW water campaigner Mel Gray said: 

“While it’s great to see water being returned to rivers in the Southern Basin, the Darling-Baaka is in urgent need of water. Years of catastrophic fish kills have had a horrific legacy. In a comprehensive monitoring survey of the Lower Darling-Baaka conducted last year, no adult Murray cod were found. Freshwater ecosystems are struggling to survive. 

“Today, an expert report is being delivered to NSW Water Minster Rose Jackson, expected to be a blueprint for how to update outdated water rules in NSW, and get water flowing into the Darling-Baaka. We’re calling on Minister Jackson to release this report to the public and get on with the job of fixing the Darling/Baaka River.”  

Environment Victoria Healthy Rivers Campaigner Tyler Rotche said: 

“It’s important to recognise that most people who sell water for the benefit of the river stay in farming, only selling some of their water rights. That means they continue to use and pay for irrigation infrastructure and contribute to the local economy. 

“Open-tender water purchases remain the most cost-effective way to recover water for the environment. Independent economic experts have repeatedly affirmed that it is one of our best tools to achieve value for money, giving farmers a competitive price for water rights, using taxpayer dollars wisely and doing right by the river. 

“Fish, frogs, birds and red gums have been waiting over a decade for this water that was promised but not delivered. This is a long-awaited first step, offering a crucial lifeline ahead of looming drought.” 

For interviews and further comment: 

Craig Wilkins, National Director, Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance 

0417 879 439 

For farmers, fishers and First Nations in support of buybacks, see our earlier release: https://environmentvictoria.org.au/2023/11/21/we-stand-by-our-river-irrigators-graziers-fishers-first-nations-leaders-speak-out-in-support-of-water-buybacks/ 

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