November 23, 2012
Minister for the Environment Tony Burke has signed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan into law. It has taken a 100 years of parochial bickering for Australia to produce a single, national plan for managing water in the Murray-Darling Basin. It was a historic step.
Burke will now present the Basin Plan to the parliament next week, in the final sitting week of the year. A disallowance motion must be moved within 15 sitting days of the Plan being tabled, and a vote held on whether or not to strike down the Plan would then be taken within a further 15 days. The Greens are opposed on the grounds that there is insufficient water for the river.
It commits the Federal Government to return a total of 3,200 gigalitres to the Basin environment, once the primary target of 2,750 GL is reached in 2019. On the other hand, there is a significant increase in the amount of groundwater that can be diverted each year, even though many of the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin rely on groundwater. There is no allowance for no climate warming in the Basin Plan, even though less rainfall is likely during winter in the southern MDB.
The political pressure from the Big Irrigators has ensured the shift away from more large-scale buying back of irrigators' water entitlements towards returning water through public subsidies for irrigation upgrades.The latter is not the cheapest option since buying irrigation water from willing sellers is up to two-and-a-half times cheaper than investing in water efficiencies through infrastructure upgrades.