Water Act changes passed in lower house
The Federal Government will still play a role in the alteration of sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Parliament determined last week.
Proposed amendments to the Water Act 2007, tabled last month, were adopted in the lower house last Tuesday with some slight changes.
The original proposal was to allow the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to adjust the amount of water to be diverted to the environment between 2400 gigalitres (GL) and 3200GL without first seeking approval.
After the Coalition submitted an amendment on the proposal however, it was passed that any decision made by the MDBA on this would require final approval from the Federal Water Minister.
A paragraph that states the MDBA must consult the public for an appropriate amount of time was also included in the amendment before it was passed.
Murray Group of Concerned Communities chair Bruce Simpson welcomed the change saying it provided some assurances to regional communities.
‘‘I think having an adjustment mechanism is a good thing, because it could go up or down.
‘‘We must work to reduce that figure, and focus on the outcomes.
‘‘In accepting the Coalition’s amendment, it puts a level of security into the decision making process — albeit one driven by political aspirations.
‘‘If we simply left it to the MDBA, there would be no checks or balances.’’
Federal Water Minister Tony Burke admitted during the debate he did not agree with the demand for ministerial prerogative to be reinstated, but conceded it was necessary in having an act both sides of Parliament could agree to.
‘‘I do appreciate that the structure of how a mechanism can work is something that should have, in structural terms, a workability that is acceptable to both sides of the Parliament,’’ he said.
Strong objectors of the initial Water Act amendment were Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security John Cobb and Independent Bob Katter.
Mr Cobb said he could not support the original proposal because of a lack in confidence in the MDBA.
He said he also had little confidence the Federal Gov- ernment would source water savings from efficiencies rather than water buy-back.
‘‘If you go to Deniliquin, Griffith, Swan Hill, Mildura or Shepparton and ask anyone on the streets whether the water buy-back has been good for their communities, there will be a loud and resounding ‘no’ echoing from the empty business houses.
‘‘This bill does go to the heart of the government’s credibility. As a government, we had a plan.
‘‘The plan was investing in the infrastructure and the farm work to the irrigation and saving the river by doing efficiencies and working with the industry, not getting rid of it.’’
The amendment to the Water Act must still be passed through the upper house to be implemented.