Australia’s Water Minister Concedes Murray-Darling Basin Plan Target ‘Next to Impossible’

By Henry Jom
Henry Jom
Henry Jom
Henry Jom is an Australian based reporter covering local Australia news. Contact him at henry.jom@epochtimes.com.au.
July 22, 2022 Updated: July 26, 2022

Australia’s Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek has admitted that delivering a key component to the Murray Darling Basin Plan before the 2024 deadline would be “next to impossible.”

This follows calls in June from Liberal Senator Anne Ruston who urged Plibersek to visit communities across the Murray Darling Basin in order to have a greater “understanding” of rural and regional areas.

Speaking at the national press club on July 19, Plibersek said she was concerned of “how far behind” the country was in terms of relocating water back into the basin.

Epoch Times Photo
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek at the National Press Club in Canberra, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

“I’m actually gobsmacked at how badly we’re doing as a nation on meeting that target,” Plibersek said.

“I have to confess—perhaps I should have known—I didn’t know how far behind we were on meeting those environmental flows until I took on this portfolio.”

However, Shadow Water Minister Perin Davey said on July 19 that delivering the plan without it impacting basin communities socio-economically was also “next to impossible.”

Under the Murray Darling Basin Plan—which received bipartisan support in 2012 under the Gillard government—the basin states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, agreed to remove 2,750 gigalitres of water from irrigated agriculture and relocate that back into the basin by 2024.

Over the past decade, more than 2,100 gigalitres have been relocated back into the environment.

Moreover, under the plan an additional 450 gigalitres of water is to be recovered through “efficiency measures,” which is also expected to be completed by 2024.

But only 2 gigalitres of water have been recovered under this measure.

“I think it will be—I have to be honest with you—next to impossible, given where we’re starting from [and] how far behind we are,” Plibersek said.

Socio-Economic Impacts

In September 2020, a report (pdf) was published following an Independent assessment of social and economic conditions in the Basin.

The report found drought to have the greatest effect on water availability.

“Commodity prices, trade barriers, and exchange rates are the other key determinants for dryland and irrigated agriculture and their communities,” the report states.

“Basin water recovery and policies incrementally add pain where drought leaves the primary wound. But now, given the level of irrigation development, the scale and frequency of recurring drought and the level of past recovery, further recovery will incrementally add more pain than in the past.”

Shadow Water Minister Perin Davey said she was frustrated that the Labor government “was focusing on one part of a complex plan and ignoring the lessons learned and outcomes being achieved.”

“The social and economic neutrality provision was put in place by Labor at the time of writing the basin plan, but [they] conveniently spent nine years in opposition ignoring the complexities and difficulties to deliver both it and other important aspects, such as constraints management,” Davey said.

However, Plibersek said that while the Liberal government had a decade to fulfil the plan, it was Labor that implemented the plan which she said “saved the river system from dying in 2019, but it’s yet to be fully implemented.”

“It’s a serious area of reform for me, and I think the states understand that is the position of the new government,” she said.

“It’s a real priority of the Commonwealth government to meet all of the commitments made in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.”

In June 2021, Davey and the Nationals had unsuccessfully attempted to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Plan by proposing to remove the 450 gigalitre commitment, and to extend the 2024 deadline.

Henry Jom
Henry Jom is an Australian based reporter covering local Australia news. Contact him at henry.jom@epochtimes.com.au.