Murray-Darling Basin

The Federal Government and the Australian Greens have reached an agreement to strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers Bill.

The agreement includes an independent audit of water allocated to the environment throughout the Murray-Darling basin, $100 million allocated to help First Nations people to participate in the water market and allowing the Commonwealth Government power to cancel state-run water-saving infrastructure projects.

Other key points of the agreement include:

  • Ensuring the Federal Government recovers 450GL of additional environmental water by 31 December 2027
  • Giving the Federal Government the power to withdraw State Government infrastructure projects that are deemed unviable, to ensure that the focus is on delivering projects that will meet the targets of the Basin Plan
  • Tasking the Inspector-General of Water Compliance to undertake an independent audit to the water allocate to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder  
  • Increasing accountability measures by publishing public information about the status of projects and delivery of the 450GL of water for the environment
  • An amendment to ensure the Basin Plan acknowledges and adequately outlines First Nations people’s connection, history and water needs
  • Boosting funding for the Aboriginal Water Entitlement Program to $100 million
  • Mandatory reporting to demonstrate how environmental water holders have considered First Nations values and uses, and involved First Nations in environmental watering decisions
  • Ensuring the flexibility to allow additional water recovery in the Northern Basin
  • Any water recovered from the Northern Basin will deliver environmental outcomes that improve resilience of the Darling-Baaka to protect habitats and help avoid risk of devastating events like mass fish deaths
  • As the report of the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee into the Bill identified, there are a number of outstanding issues that will need to be addressed in the plan’s next phase including First Nations connections, delivery of water resource plans, and climate change

The legislation is set for debate in the Senate. 

Federal Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, said, “I have made clear from the start that I am determined to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This is a critical time for our environment – I don’t want communities to wake up one day with a dry river and know their governments could have done more.

“That’s why I have been clear, I’m willing to work with all parties who are interested in getting the best outcome for the Basin. We know better decisions are made when the government works collaboratively with others. I welcome the constructive engagement by Senator Hanson-Young on this matter.

“We’re talking about the largest inland river system in Australia, supporting threatened plants and animals and delivering drinking water for three million Australians. We have to get this right.

“Not delivering this is simply not an option. We want to make sure we have a healthy and sustainable river system for the communities, industry, First Nations groups and environment that rely on it,” Ms Plibersek said.

Federal Greens Spokesperson for the Environment and Water, Sarah Hanson-Young, said, “Today, the Greens have secured a critical lifeline for the Murray-Darling Basin. This is a significant win for the environment and river communities to stop our rivers running dry.

“The Greens have secured a guarantee in law that the environment will finally receive the 450GL of water needed to protect our precious river system. This breakthrough agreement will deliver more water for the river across the entire basin, north and south. This is a landmark win for South Australia after more than a decade fighting for the water needed to protect the Coorong, Lower Lakes and to keep the Murray Mouth open.

“As part of this agreement, the Greens have secured an independent audit of water in the basin to stop the rorts, inject integrity and restore trust after a decade of mismanagement from vested interests.

“The Greens have secured $100 million for First Nations water and the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program to protect country and culture from greed and over-extraction. For the first time, the laws governing the Murray-Darling Basin will recognise the unique connection First Nations people have with the river system.

“This breakthrough agreement will help protect the river from over-extraction, mass fish kills and environmental degradation as El Niño, drought and climate change threaten. I want to thank Minister Plibersek for working constructively in the national interest to protect Australia’s largest river system,” Ms Hanson-Young said.

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