Basin Plan to centre on communities
The Coalition Government is investing $234.2 million to put communities at the centre of the Murray Darling Basin Plan by focusing on the jobs and economic activity the plan can generate in regional areas, according to Water Minister Keith Pitt.
He launched the Murray Darling Communities Investment Package detailing 11 new initiatives which he said would keep the Basin Plan on track while ruling out water buybacks.
Member for Farrer Sussan Ley said it is a positive step forward for basin communities.
‘‘Eighteen months ago I asked our Water Minister (then David Littleproud) for an independent investigation of the social and economic impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan here in the southern region,’’ she said.
‘‘The Morrison Government is acting on advice from that report and taking it even further. From better community engagement across the basin, through to localised funding to achieve water recovery that we can all support, this is about empowering real people and real farming families in ways that protect our regional economic base.
‘‘Perhaps the most important initiative for us is a thorough investigation of the delivery of water through the choke and a careful evaluation of what is happening with that water downstream.
‘‘I have long been critical of taking an additional 450GL from local irrigation; and the Commonwealth will now focus the future of the (450GL) efficiency program for off farm projects that avoid taking water from the community.
‘‘Water Minister Keith Pitt has heard our message loud and clear and I believe he understands the concerns and complaints I have been taking from our communities to the Cabinet table.’’
Minister Pitt said his focus will be on delivering the highest accountability when it comes to managing water resources by establishing a new statutory compliance role separate from the MDBA.
‘‘I’m also reaffirming the Australian Government’s commitment to recovering the 450GL needed to achieve enhanced environmental outcomes but I will not put further pressure on irrigators to recover this through buybacks. My focus will be on offfarm efficiencies.
‘‘Communities have told us in no uncertain terms that they are sick of being talked at and not listened to.
‘‘That feedback came through loud and clear in the Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the basin. It highlighted the need to rebuild trust with communities and to ensure they can play an active role in shaping their own futures.
‘‘I want to thank Robbie Sefton and her panel for the report which was a touchstone for us in developing the roadmap.
‘‘This report, along with the First Review of the Water for the Environment Special Account report, which I also released, and recommendations from previous reviews, give basin governments the guidance needed to put communities at the centre of the plan.
‘‘It’s now time to focus on delivering the projects that keep more than 600GL of water in the system for productive use and securing the additional 450GL to improve water quality and river health, in particular in the lower Murray.
‘‘In the face of slower than anticipated progress on the 450GL we have established the $38 million Sustaining Riverland Environments Program, designed to make sure the environment is supported as we redouble efforts to recover the water needed through improving the efficiency of irrigation networks.
‘‘The need to improve community involvement has been a recurring issue since I became water minister which is why I am making $54 million available to support Murray Darling Basin communities and rivers through two competitive grant programs – an extended Murray Darling Basin Economic Development Program and a new Healthy Rivers Program both of which are designed to turn local ideas into action,’’ Mr Pitt said.