Breakthrough for Murray-Darling – new legislation throws rivers a lifeline after decade of neglect
The successful passage of the Restoring our Rivers Bill through the Senate heralds a breakthrough in efforts to revive Australia’s largest river system to health, leading environment organisations from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland said today.
The Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance, which represents close to half a million supporters across all Basin states, today said this strengthened Bill delivers for the environment, providing a crucial lifeline for the river system on the brink of the next drought.
The Alliance congratulated Water Minister Tanya Plibersek, the Australian Greens and crossbenchers on this historic outcome and welcomed the Albanese Government’s commitment to urgently recover more environmental water.
The legislation comes after years of grassroots action by Murray-Darling communities including dryland farmers, irrigators, First Nations and conservationists, and creates a pathway for a healthy river and First Nations water justice, the groups said.
Conservation Council of South Australia Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said:
“As the state at the end of Australia’s greatest river system, South Australia is set to be a big winner from the passing of the Restoring our Rivers Bill.
“For the last decade it’s been incredibly frustrating having to justify and defend the inclusion of the 450 gigalitre component of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“We always knew it was essential, and it’s exciting to see this Bill finally guarantee its delivery.
“Back at the start of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, scientists said the full delivery of the Plan – including the 450 gigalitres – was the absolute bare minimum required to give the Murray a decent chance of survival.
“Even now, dredging of the river mouth is about to re-start at the Coorong. This is a clear sign more water is needed to ensure the basic health of the river. We don’t have a moment to lose with dry summers ahead.
“We thank and applaud Minister Plibersek and Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for working hard to create a circuit breaker in the challenging politics of the river, and for the many Senate crossbenchers for supporting a strengthened Bill.
Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Jacqui Mumford said:
“Communities of Western NSW have been relentless in their fight for inland rivers, wetlands and the Menindee Lakes. Today they can be proud of what has been achieved.
“The pressure on inland rivers of NSW has been immense, mainly because of long-term mismanagement under previous governments. Through the last drought we saw rivers dry up, wetlands on fire, communities without drinking water and mass fish kills all over the Basin.
“The Nature Conservation Council of NSW applauds the Federal Government, the Australian Greens and Independent members of the Senate crossbench for working cooperatively and getting the Restoring Our Rivers Bill across the line.
“We still have many questions about how more water will be returned to the Darling/Baaka, we’ve learnt the hard way that the devil is in the details when it comes to water management.”
Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:
“This new legislation offers the Murray-Darling a lifeline, giving rivers, wetlands and wildlife a fighting chance of survival ahead of looming drought.
“Dodgy deals and delays have seen the Basin Plan grind to a halt this past decade, and our rivers have paid the price. This legislation allows the Albanese Government to start voluntary water buybacks again, a vital solution for river health that is supported by 63% of regional Australians.
“The legislation also creates a pathway for First Nations to have a much greater say over how their waterways are managed, an important acknowledgement of the crucial role they have always played in caring for country.
“This Bill now has the support of federal politicians of very different political stripes and every state and territory government in the Basin, with the exception of Victoria. The fact that the Victorian Government remains opposed to restoring our rivers will disappoint millions of Victorians.”
Queensland Conservation Council Director Dave Copeman said:
“The Basin Plan has been plagued by mismanagement, alleged water theft and political interference, so we’re pleased to see the changes include an independent audit of water recovery by the Inspector-General.
“Now that the bill has passed the Senate, Minister Plibersek must focus on implementing the power she has to return water to the environment to ensure wetlands, rivers, communities and industries survive the next drought.”
Media contact: Anna Greer
E: [email protected]
Ph: (02) 7208 9482
NCC Water Campaigner, Mel Gray is available for interviews on request.