Water Murray Darling Basin Plan

Murray-Darling Basin

05 June 2018

My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Water. This Friday basin ministers will meet in Canberra to discuss further efficiency measures in the southern basin. The action that I am seeking is for the minister to outline the position that she will be taking to Canberra and to explain what work Victoria has done to define the socio-economic test spelled out in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and also what alternative arrangements she has proposed.

Some in northern Victoria are calling for Victoria to push for amendments to the plan to clarify the meaning of the socio-economic test. But section 7.17 of the basin plan states that the 450 gigalitres of upwater can be reduced if efficiency measures meet equivalent environmental outcomes and have neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes. The plan spells out the neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes as evidenced by the participation of consumptive water users in on or off farm modernisation projects that return water to the environment. This is causing a great deal of consternation in northern Victoria, because the test seems to be defined by the willingness of individuals to participate in programs which return water to the commonwealth.

There is, however, another option. Section 7.17(2)(b)(ii) of the plan states that alternative arrangements can be —

proposed by a basin state, assessed by that state as achieving water recovery with neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes.

This evening I would like the minister to tell irrigators what work she has done to put forward alternative plans, and I would like her to explain why, with just four days to go until this crucial meeting takes place, she is yet to outline a way forward.

The stakes are very high for our region. In 2009, 1475 gigalitres of high-reliability water shares were held in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district. This number is now believed to be less than 900 gigalitres. The socio-economic analysis undertaken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has laid bare the job losses and the lost economic activity in our region. As more water leaves the district, costs increase for those who remain, and with $2 billion invested in the modernisation of these irrigation districts through the Connections Project there is a risk that further water recovery will result in the collapse of Goulburn-Murray Water.

Goulburn-Murray Water's huge footprint and modernised infrastructure, combined with a shrinking customer base and delivery volume, is a disaster waiting to happen. It is not good enough for the minister to simply tell irrigators what they want to hear; she needs to actually have a plan of action, and I would like her to outline what that plan actually is.

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