By: Dr Emma Carmody | Senior Policy and Law Reform Solicitor | EDO NSW
16 February 2018
On 14 February 2018, the Australian Parliament voted to disallow a proposed amendment to the Basin Plan to – amongst other things – take 70 GL (or 70 billion litres) away from the environment in the northern Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). The proposed amendment was based on work undertaken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) as part of the Northern Basin Review (NBR).
Since our national Parliament exercised its right to reject this amendment, the State of New South Wales has intimated in an official media release that it will walk away from the Basin Plan, claiming that the NBR ‘was always part of the Basin Plan package’ and that ‘[t]his move makes the Basin Plan untenable for NSW.’
We have received a number of inquiries from clients about the meaning of these statements, and their possible implications for the ongoing management of scarce water resources in our largest – and most important – river system. The following analysis is designed to separate fact from fiction.
There is no Plan B: NSW must stay the course and save the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
Premier Gladys Berejiklian should take the water portfolio from the Nationals and recommit to implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on time and in full.
“The NSW Nationals have proven time and again they are unable to manage water for NSW,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.
“By their reckless actions and mismanagement, as revealed by ABC’s Four Corners, the Nationals are jeopardising the ecological health of our river systems, the livelihoods of river communities, and decades of complex planning and negotiation.
There is no time to waste. The Basin remains in a poor state.
The Murray-Darling Declaration was signed on 5 February 2018 by 12 leading experts on the Basin. The Declaration is about how to fix what is going wrong in the Murray-Darling Basin. It is not about politics or playing the ‘blame game’. The signatories have come together to make the Declaration to highlight their real concerns and to offer solutions.
The Northern Basin Review was a review of water recovery figures legislated under the current version of the Basin Plan. The idea was to undertake further scientific and socio-economic analysis to determine if new evidence justified varying the volume of water being returned to the river system in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority recommended removing 70 gigalitres (GL) of water from the pool of environmental water. Crucially, their recommendation included the removal of 14GL of water from the catchment that is home to the Gwydir Wetlands (near Moree) and 12GL from the catchment that is home to the Macquarie Marshes (near Warren), both of which are listed under the Ramsar Convention.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands. 2018 Materials available to download www.worldwetlandsday.org
Community group takes legal action to enforce water laws because the Coalition government has not
The Inland Rivers Network is taking legal action to force Peter Harris, a big irrigator in the state’s northwest and a Nationals Party donor, to return more than five billion litres of water he took, allegedly illegally, from the Barwon-Darling River. 
“It should not fall to community groups to enforce our water laws, but the Berejiklian’s government’s inaction has left the Inland Rivers Network no option,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.
9th AUGUST 2017 – Farmers and conservationists rallied outside NSW Parliament today demanding a full judicial review into the mismanagement of water in the Murray-Darling system and the removal of the water portfolios from the National Party in NSW and nationally.
2nd AUGUST 2017 – .. revelations in today’s Daily Telegraph come after Four Corners last month found big irrigators at the top of the Barwon-Darling river system had syphoned off billions of litres of water illegally.