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New Murray-Darling deal breaks decade-long deadlock to deliver water to rivers

Environment groups from across four states have welcomed progress on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying the new agreement has the potential to move us beyond the unworkable barriers and delay tactics we've seen in the past decade.

The new agreement for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has the potential to move us beyond the unworkable barriers and delay tactics we've seen in the past decade, peak environment groups in Basin states said today.

However the groups have warned that the agreement announced today by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek represents the "bare minimum", and are calling on the Commonwealth to ensure sufficient water is available for wetlands and wildlife during the next drought to avoid severe ecological consequences.

The groups have also issued a direct criticism of Victoria – which is clinging to old, discredited ideas from the disastrous Barnaby Joyce era of water management, while Commonwealth, NSW, QLD and South Australian governments have signed up to the new agreement.

Conservation SA Campaign Co-ordinator Char Nitschke said:

“Our inland rivers have already suffered through years of delays and look at the result – the Darling-Baaka running dry, millions of dead fish, and toxic blackwater events because small and medium floods haven’t been able to flush out the landscape.

“While the Commonwealth deserves credit for finding a path forward, this isn’t a new deal – it’s delivering the existing Basin Plan with an extended timeframe.

“The Malinauskus government must stand strong on their election commitments, including legal actions against eastern states to defend their water rights, if need be.”

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:

“It’s not surprising Victoria was left out of the deal considering the Andrews government is clinging to Barnaby Joyce style policies that would block the most cost-effective and feasible solution – buying water for the river.

“Our recent report Debasing the Basin Plan documents how successive Victorian governments have undermined the national plan to restore the Murray-Darling to health. We hope other states can learn the lessons of the past and stand up to Victoria’s negotiating tactics this time round.

“The water recovery targets in the Basin Plan aren’t about restoring a pristine environment, but simply giving the river a bare minimum for survival. By not signing up, the Victorian government is saying they don’t support keeping Australia’s most important river system alive.

“We’re concerned Victoria will miss out on some benefits from being part of the deal including significant federal funding for regional communities.”

Nature Conservation Council of NSW Water Campaigner Mel Gray said: 

“We are encouraged that Water Minister Rose Jackson has taken a step forward by not blocking the federal government from taking the minimum steps needed to keep the basin alive.

“The previous NSW Government undermined the Murray-Darling Basin Plan wherever they could. Through dodgy accounting practices and ‘engineering’ solutions that were never going to work, our inland rivers are in a state of crisis. 

“NSW has had enough fish kills, and our wetlands are still recovering from the last savage drought. Only real water will get the rivers through the next drought, not dodgy projects and crafty accounting.

"As we enter another period of drought it’s critical that this water is delivered as soon as possible, as further delays will devastate people and the environment.”

Queensland Conservation Council Water Policy Officer Nigel Parratt said:

“While we acknowledge that delivering the Basin Plan within current legislated timeframes is impossible due to nearly a decade of inaction by the previous Australian Government, the actions outlined in the agreement today should be just a starting point.

“Minister Plibersek also needs to provide rock solid assurance that there will be no further delays to delivering the Basin Plan, and provide details about the process for ensuring that states comply with the agreement to ensure that our inland rivers and wetlands have a fighting chance of surviving the next drought.”

Statement ends

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