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Historic move for plan

Saturday, 15th December, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project will be funded and Aboriginal representatives appointed to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Board, it was decided at a meeting of water ministers yesterday.

The ministers also agreed to return up to 450 gigalitres of water to the environment and the Basin States will be given more time to consult with the public about their water saving plans.

The Murray-Darling Ministerial Council met in Melbourne and negotiated what NSW  Regional Water Minister Niall Blair described as the biggest step forward in the Basin Plan since its inception in 2012.

However, although the Commonwealth promised to fund the first stage of the Menindee Lakes Project, NSW has yet to decide what that project will be.

The only proposal so far was unanimously rejected last month by everyone on the Darling River from Wentworth to Menindee.

A counter proposal by local MP Kevin Humphries was not up for discussion at yesterday’s meeting but Mr Blair has said it would be investigated.

Mr Blair said yesterday that the NSW Government had finalised negotiations on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. 

“The negotiations are done,” he said. “We now move to implementation. We now provide certainty for our communities.” 

The Basin Plan has been condemned for putting politics before the health of the rivers but Mr Blair said yesterday’s agreement was different.

“This isn’t a political outcome,” he said. “This is a group of leaders who have used the political process to enhance the environmental, economic and the social well-being of our communities and for that I commend all of my colleagues and their respective governments.”

He said the agreement would have all proposed efficiency projects that contribute to the 450 GL of environmental water assessed to ensure they did not affect jobs and production. 

Efficiency projects include lining irrigation channels, reducing water leaks and installing meters. 

Mr Blair said NSW also now wanted the Commonwealth to decentralise the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. 

“We want those who are making decisions about communities to be part of those communities so they can incorporate local knowledge in their decision-making and not simply view the postcode as a number on a spreadsheet,” he said. 

The Ministerial Council also pledged to work together to deliver more environmental water to the Murray River, Mr Blair said. 

The dying Coorong, at the mouth of the Murray, will see “real environmental benefits” from more Commonwealth investment, according to Federal Water Minister, David Littleproud.

Mr Littleproud described the outcome of yesterday’s meeting as “historic” because it meant the Basin Plan would be delivered.

“The two million people who live up and down the Basin now have certainty,” he said.

Further, he said, a new regulation under the Water Act to give the States more time to consult with their communities would make for a better outcome.

“If more time delivers better results, then it makes sense to give states that time.” 

On the eve of the Ministerial Council meeting, Federal Shadow Water Minister, Tony Burke, said he had concerns about making the return of the 450GL to the environment contingent on redefining “socio-economic benefits”.

Yesterday Mr Burke’s office said he would comment on the outcome of the meeting oncehe had examined it in detail.

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