Water buy-backs are officially off the table and Murray Darling Basin Authority responsibilities will be split under new water management changes announced on Friday.
In a webinar attended by 500 people, federal Water Minister Keith Pitt also committed more money to support regional communities adversely affected by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in an effort to ‘‘strike an effective balance’’ with implementation of the plan.
It has been described as ‘‘a step in the right direction’’ by the Speak Up Campaign.
Its chair Shelley Scoullar said it was refreshing to hear a person in authority in the water space who was prepared to admit that changes were needed to Basin Plan implementation.
‘‘As a community organisation, it was especially gratifying to get acknowledgement of what we have been saying for many years — that communities are not being listened to. Hopefully today will be a ‘line in the sand’ moment when this will be rectified,” Mrs Scoullar said on Friday.
She added an acceptance that rural Australia needs to play a part in the national recovery was also welcomed, and that this can only be maximised if we get water policy right.
‘‘Water reform has had a massive impact on rural communities and the nation’s staple food production industries.
‘‘As we have highlighted many times in recent years, these industries need government support, not the hindrance which has occurred since the start of the Basin Plan process.
‘‘It is a positive sign that our messages are being heard and we look forward to Mr Pitt’s words being put into action so our rural communities can regenerate.
‘‘We further welcome a commitment to trust and transparency, which those living and working in the Basin know has been sadly lacking.
‘‘We realise there is still a long way to go, however in the past our frustration has been largely at the refusal of governments — led by the bureaucracy — to accept there were problems which need to be addressed.
‘‘Buy-backs have been just one part of a massive problem with Basin Plan implementation, which goes all the way back to the manipulated science on which the plan was based. Those responsible for the flawed scientific reports should ‘fess up’ so we can move forward and develop more accurate data on which to base our water management.’’
Mrs Scoullar said as we work towards striking the right balance, as promised by Mr Pitt, we need to reassess flooding regimes which have been causing irreparable damage to our fragile flora and fauna.
‘‘The plan that is supposed to be protecting our environment is destroying large parts of it because the MDBA has always adopted a ‘just add water’ approach and has not delivered the adaptability in the Basin Plan that was promised.
‘‘There are still sustainable diversion limit projects in the pipeline which will cause harm to the environment and impact adversely on communities, so it’s important we have sufficient rigour in the way these projects are developed and delivered.
‘‘We know the Water Sharing Plans and the Murray Darling Agreement are a large part of the problem, which is why our nation needs a significant rethink in our overall water management.’’
In conclusion, she said Speak Up appreciates the political difficulties associated with the Lower Lakes in South Australia and their insatiable demand for freshwater from upstream.
‘‘Mr Pitt wants the states to work more collaboratively on water management and Basin Plan implementation, and we see this as being imperative. It is interesting that at this time our nation is debating the selfish attitude of state governments which is threatening our recovering from the pandemic.
‘‘It is this same selfishness, especially from South Australia, which is hindering the delivery of an effective, balanced Basin Plan that genuinely protects our environment as well as the nation’s food industries and the rural communities that rely on them for prosperity. States need to start acting in the best interests of our nation, instead of the parochial posturing that we have been seeing,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.