Desperate Measures: Murray Darling Basin amendment

The Senate is about to vote on an amendment to the Murray Darling Plan that would increase water use by irrigation. The amendment is likely to be unlawful, claimed water savings are unlikely to exist and threaten the value of water licences. The amendment should be disallowed.

Research released by The Australia Institute today shows that the latest proposal to amend the Murray Darling Basin Plan is flawed on legal, environmental and economic grounds.

“Senators are being asked to vote on an amendment that is likely to be unlawful,” said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute.

“To achieve genuine water savings, policies that ensure water gets where it is meant to go have to be in place and enforced. If the water never arrives, these projects get no water to ‘save’.

“The 2012 Basin Plan assumed that certain policies would be in place to deliver environmental water before calculating more water savings. We can’t implement these same policies now and claim that’s a water saving – it’s nothing more than double counting.

“The Basin Plan regulations are very clear on how to calculate water savings and the projects that underpin this amendment don’t comply with these regulations.

“Beyond the regulations, these water savings are unlikely to exist in the real world.

“The gulf between the how water is counted on paper and how much really flows down the rivers is getting wider and this amendment will make that much worse.

“This amendment is about more than how water is shared between irrigation and the environment. These rules are the basis for water licences, which are both property rights and financial assets.

“Banks lend to and shareholders invest in irrigation businesses based on their water licences. If water rules are not based on robust, defensible numbers, there are risks to irrigation businesses, the environment, and also to the financial sector. 

“The scandals in the Murray Darling have brought desperate times, but it is not time for these desperate measures to fudge the numbers.

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