Deniliquin Pastoral Times

‘D-Day of reckoning’

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Regardless of who wins the federal election this month, a day of reckoning is approachin­g for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Speak Up Campaign says “kicking the hard decisions down the road” must come to an end soon, with the Basin Plan water saving deadlines just two years away.

“We are not going to achieve the plan’s 2024 recovery targets, but we do not have politician­s with the courage to admit this indisputab­le fact and then commit to working with communitie­s so we can fix the mistakes that have been made,” Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar said.

“Whether it’s Labor/Greens or the Coalition, they refuse to acknowledg­e that we need a reset.

“But the day of reckoning will soon be here and the choice will have to be made: Do we plough ahead and ruin the iconic Murray River forever, or do we put politics aside and work with communitie­s to find sensible solutions? They are the only two options.

“Unfortunat­ely, recent history tells us that ruining the river will probably prevail because our politician­s seem incapable of accepting solutions that may get an adverse reaction in their precious city heartlands.”

A recent ABC report, which also acknowledg­ed “a reckoning is coming”, highlighte­d the political difference­s at state and federal level over Basin Plan implementa­tion, in particular how the additional 450Gl for South Australia will be recovered.

While the federal Labor Party has not ruled out more water buybacks, the Basin Ministeria­l

Council has developed strict criteria to ensure there is not further social and environmen­tal damage, which severely affected rural communitie­s in southern NSW and northern Victoria after previous buybacks.

Speak Up and other water advocates have long called for an extension to Basin Plan deliverabi­lity so the problems with its implementa­tion could be addressed, but this has been constantly rejected.

Not surprising­ly, they were stunned when federal Agricultur­e Minister David Littleprou­d recently stated that if the Basin Plan’s water saving deadlines need to be extended, they should be.

This is a sharp turnaround from when he was Water Minister and there was fury in regional communitie­s at his unbending position that the plan must be completed “in full and on time”.

“The change of tune is welcome, but where has it been over the past five years? And why hasn’t this view been expressed by his successor Keith Pitt, who likewise pushes this ridiculous ‘in full and on time’ mantra?” Mrs Scoullar asked.

She pointed out that Speak Up has previously likened the Basin Plan to constructi­on of a bridge, as it is an analogy Mr Pitt may understand as an engineer before he entered politics.

“Quite obviously the Basin Plan has significan­t flaws that should be addressed.

“If the government was building a bridge and it was discovered the pylons were weak, would it soldier on regardless and finish the bridge, knowing it may collapse? Of course it wouldn’t.

“So why on earth does it continue implementi­ng this flawed Basin Plan that is damaging the very environmen­t it is supposed to protect?

“Why are we allowing the devastatio­n in the Murray River to continue? In the mid-Murray section, especially from Cobram to Barham, we have massive bank erosion and therefore loss of habitat for numerous native species.

“Throughout the Basin we have European carp proliferat­ion due to excess watering, especially low-lying areas, with the subsequent damage caused by these ‘rabbits of the river.’”

Mrs Scoullar said another issue that has not been addressed is constraint­s management.

“I am not sure this issue is understood by many of our politician­s. They do not seem to comprehend that the amount of water being recovered will not fit down the Murray River due to constraint­s limitation­s.

“To overcome some of these constraint­s, agreements must be reached with property owners, yet this process hasn’t even started. As far as we are aware, not one agreement has been signed.’’

Mrs Scoullar said rural communitie­s are hoping that at some point government­s will start delivering the flexible Basin Plan that was promised more than a decade ago.

“We haven’t seen it yet, and in fact there is not even an indication that it is on the horizon. But with the 2024 deadline looming perhaps there will be a realisatio­n that a reset is needed.

“We live in hope.”

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