The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the outcome of many years of campaigning by communities and conservationists to restore the river system back to health.
In 2007, Malcolm Turnbull, Environment Minister under the Howard Government drew up the Commonwealth Water Act that was adopted by the Federal Parliament. This law established the Basin Plan, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to implement the Plan and the Commonwealth Office of Environmental Water to manage water returned to the rivers through the Plan.
$13 billion will be invested in the development of the Basin Plan, with most of the financial windfall going to the irrigation industry.
The Plan is now at a critical stage of implementation.
The initial work undertaken by the MDBA recognised that the prevention of further deterioration of river health and restoration of key environmental assets would require up to 7,600 GL to be returned.
IRN with the Lifeblood Alliance supported the return of 4,000 GL as a balanced outcome, recognising social and economic impacts.
However, the final Plan adopted by the Federal Government in November 2012 was for the equivalent of 3,200 GL for environmental restoration with a backstop of 2,750 GL. The Plan allowed for a review of the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) set for the Northern Basin and an adjustment mechanism for the Southern Basin SDL.
These processes over the last 5 years have been heavily influenced by political bias. MDBA consultation and research has focussed heavily on the irrigation industry to the detriment of all other interests.
The outcome of the Northern Basin Review is to decrease environmental water by 70GL from 390GL as identified in the Plan to 320 GL. This includes giving up 18 GL of environmental water currently held in the Macquarie and Gwydir rivers that supports internationally significant wetlands.
The outcome of the Southern Basin SDL adjustment mechanism is to give back 605 GL to the irrigation industry. While there are political announcements about finding an additional 450 GL of environmental water through a range of water use efficiency projects, none of these have been identified or costed.
Both of these outcomes are currently with the Federal Parliament as amendments to the Basin Plan.
The Northern Basin amendment was disallowed in the Senate on Tuesday 14 February.
This vote was supported by The Greens, ALP, Xenophon Team, Australian Conservatives and Derryn Hinch, Independent Senator.
This means the full 390 GL, as appears in the Basin Plan, is to be returned to the rivers and wetlands in the Northern Basin.
The Southern Basin SDL adjustment is also subject to a disallowance motion that will be voted on in the Senate in May.
A progressive and balanced approach to saving our largest river system has been supported by the Federal Parliament thus counteracting the political influence of big agribusiness.
IRN will continue to advocate for a sustainable flow of water in our rivers and a more efficient irrigation industry that does not rely on wasteful flood irrigation practices, and growing unsustainable crops.