Cash for 450GL compensation
Despite saying there will be no negative effects from recovering an extra 450 gigalitres (GL) of environmental water, the Federal Government has made provision for paying compensation to communities.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently said the water would be recovered through projects that ensure ‘‘there is no social and economic downside for communities’’.
The 450GL is on top of the 2750GL benchmark in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and locals fear the extra flows could have third party impacts such as flooding.
Legislation to create a $1.77 billion account to fund the project was expected to go before Parliament yesterday.
Federal Water Minister Tony Burke has repeatedly stated the water recovery process will have neutral or positive socioeconomic effects.
However, a closer look at the bill reveals references to payments for communities negatively affected by the project.
An explanatory memorandum on the bill says, ‘‘Payments may also be made from the [$1.77 billion] Account to address any detrimental social or economic impact on the well being of any community in the Murray-Darling Basin that is associated with a project as mentioned above, so as to offset any impacts’’.
This is despite the bill itself earlier saying the water will be recovered in such a way that ‘‘there are no negative social or economic impacts on basin communities’’.
When questioned about the payments, Federal Water Minister Tony Burke’s office issued the following statement: ‘‘The Bill includes this provision in case projects are made up of multiple elements.
‘‘In combination these must achieve neutral or better socio-economic outcomes, as required by the basin plan.’’
Murray Group of Concerned Communities (MGCC) chairman Bruce Simpson said the payments sound like a structural adjustment package.
‘‘We don’t want to be fobbed off by structural re-adjustment,’’ he said.
‘‘Our argument is there can’t be any third party impacts. If there are you can’t proceed.
‘‘It [structural adjustment] provides the means or excuse for them to proceed even though they acknowledge . . . that there’s third party impacts.’’
Mr Simpson said the payments could also not be enough to cover any damage - and then there is the problem of proving the negative effects.
‘‘Who’s the person responsible for proving the negative impact has occurred? It will be the community,’’ he said.
Mr Simpson said even if the community was successful in proving damage, it will be another challenge to get the government to change.
‘‘The community will be left to defend itself in regard to the impacts that this plan creates.
‘‘We will have to mobilise our own resources.
‘‘That’s a concern that will continue beyond the plan going through Parliament.’’