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Basin plan delays are killing our rivers

New Queensland and ACT water ministers must hold firm against NSW and Victorian attempts to delay water recovery at tomorrow’s Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting.

“NSW continues to drag its feet on proper measurement, metering and monitoring of irrigation in the northern basin, while downstream communities, traditional owners and native fish continue to suffer,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“There are too many straws in the glass. The river ecosystems simply cannot sustain increasing extraction.”

Mr Gambian said regulation of floodplain harvesting in NSW must ensure environmental impacts of diversion works are assessed. 

“If water cannot get to rivers, or too much water is taken from rivers, downstream communities will suffer. Rivers die from the bottom up,” he said. 

”Minco must decide whether NSW floodplain harvesting licences will exceed statutory limits in the Basin Plan. Licensing water that doesn’t exist will only exacerbate the problems with the Basin Plan. 

“Environmental ‘offsets’ of projects like the Menindee Lakes water-saving project will not deliver real water savings and will kill the largest living wetland in the middle of the Murray-Darling Basin, contravening several international conventions. 

“Minco ministers must put more emphasis on preservation of ecosystems under threat of changing climate and unbridled growth in extraction.

“We are facing extinction level events across multiple species and unless we support our lifeblood, keep our rivers healthy, we will create a basin which no longer supports life. 

“We also have a duty to protect our environment for all our futures. We will be watching very closely and hoping the Ministers choose action, not more delays.”

Only Coalition hides from Murray-Darling water transparency bill

The NSW Parliament narrowly rejected a water transparency bill today, with all parties other than the government voting for the bill, introduced by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

The bill proposed to force all members of parliament to disclose water licences, and also to provide a transparent register of all corporations and individuals engaged in trading water.

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said: “Water management in this state has failed the inland rivers and wetlands of NSW and the many people who rely on them.

“This bill was a crucial first step towards transparency, and the government has failed even this.

“It is fundamental that we should know who is buying and selling our water, and whether members of parliament are among the few benefiting from decisions that have decimated our rivers and downstream communities.“

In 2004, all the state governments and the federal government agreed to implement a transparent water register, under the National Water Initiative.

“16 years after promising to implement a transparent water register, the government has again chosen to delay this important reform.”


After passing in the upper house, the bill was voted down 45 to 41 today, with only government MPs opposing the bill, and Labor, Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and Independent MPs all supporting the bill.

NSW Parliament has chance to disallow government sponsored water theft

The NSW Conservation Council calls on all upper house members to vote today to disallow Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s floodplain harvesting regulation. 

“The Parliament has a chance today to act as an effective check-and-balance”.

“This was a reprehensible deal by the Nationals to let irrigators intercept unlimited amounts of water for free. 

Melinda Pavey’s “Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting” Regulation was issued on February 7th, 2020, and granted an exemption from the Water Management Act, allowing irrigators who had built illegal channels and levees to intercept and store water for free, before it reaches rivers.[1]  

Independent MLC Justin Field today introduced a motion to disallow the floodplain harvesting regulation, which Parliament is likely to vote on this evening.

“First the Nationals over-allocated river water, which stopped the Darling from flowing. Now they’re giving away water before it can even reach the river. 

“Allowing floodplain harvesting is one the greatest transfers of natural resources into private hands in the history of Australia.”

“Floodplain harvesting is killing our rivers. It needs to be reined in, not given a blanket exemption.

“Giving more free water to cotton irrigators is a recipe for more fish kills and widespread blue-green algae.

[1] Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020, issued February 7th, 2020.

Morrison Coalition Government kills the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

The Federal Government’s decision to ban water buy-backs from willing sellers in the Murray Darling Basin ensures the Basin Plan’s 2024 environmental targets will not be met. 

“Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt’s announcement today is the death knell of the Basin Plan,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“The change means the Basin Plan must rely solely on engineering solutions to fulfil its aims, which just sets up the Plan for failure.

“Numerous studies have shown water buy-backs are the fastest and most cost-effective way to make the rivers flow again.

“They have also found engineering works are more expensive and return less water to the river while having the perverse effect of stimulating demand from big irrigators and pushing up the price of water. [1]

“Our river systems are in a fight for their lives. Banning water buy-backs means the water authorities are being pushed into the ring with one hand tied behind their backs.

“The winners from this senseless move will be big irrigators who are effectively dictating terms to the government to continue over-extracting water for private profit.

“The losers are the regional communities, native fish and wetlands, Indigenous peoples and all Australians who love our rivers and want them to flow free.

“The government should buy back licences from the north of the basin — from willing sellers — where more water is allocated than can be sustainably delivered,” he said.

“It must vastly improve modelling and monitoring of flows to avoid massive discrepancies like those identified by the Wentworth Group yesterday, and must also make the ownership and trading of water rights totally transparent.

“This move will put struggling native fish populations at further risk and undermines the purpose of the Basin plan — to recover an over-extracted river system to sustainable levels of health.”


[1] Recovering water for the environment in the Murray-Darling: farm upgrades increase water prices more than buybacks, The Conversation, 1-9-2020