October 30, 2012
Gillard Labor announced that the Commonwealth will spend $1.7 billion to increase water return to the Murray-Darling River by a further 450 gigalitres. The extra 450 gigalitres will be achieved "largely" through on-farm investments. The extra water savings are in addition to the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan that recommends 2,750 gigalitres be returned to the environment, taking the new total to 3,200 GL.
The announcement, which is a small win for South Australia, may start to see a reversal of the environmental degradation at the lower end of the basin system due to the overallocation of a water by the various state governments. It is 'may' because New South Wales and Victoria have been campaigning for a limit of 2,100 gigalitres on how much water can be recovered for environmental flows.
If the Commonwealth attempts to override the resistance to reform the overallocations of water by New South Wales and Victoria, are we heading for a constitutional showdown being decided by the High Court? Would it not have have easier and more effective to buy back the water? The reason is that the basin irrigators in New South Wales and Victoria have largely rejected that market based approach.
It's a depressing scenario but i see little chance of co-operation at the level of CoAG. The history has been one of conflict between, not consensus amongst, the states with respect to reducing the overallocation of water. Overallocation of water for irrigation is not fair use.