Having listened to farmers and irrigators, as well as intense lobbying by Nationals MPs, the Federal Government has acted on water policy reform and today unveiled its Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package.
This means Victorian communities, including those within the Nicholls electorate, will benefit from an overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that will see more than $230 million invested in creating jobs, economic activity, and healthy rivers in regional areas.
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, and Federal Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, said a crucial aspect of the package involved splitting the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, with a new independent statutory compliance body to be created.
Additionally, the Federal Government has emphatically ruled out water buy backs.
Mr Drum said the package should be viewed as an important first step in water policy reform.
“Hopefully, we will start to see some balance in water policy in the future,” Mr Drum said.
“I have been calling for the MDBA to be split up for over a year and now with an independent statutory compliance body to be created, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder will have to take responsibility for their actions, as well as abide by the same rules as our farmers.
“Under this government, ‘buy backs’ are off the table, as are ‘on-farm efficiencies’ – this is what our farmers have been calling for.
“No more destructive, dangerous and lazy buy backs.
“These reforms are a great start and Keith Pitt should be acknowledged for the changes he has made.”
Mr Pitt said the initiatives were practical and realistic and based around three key themes: (i) investing in communities; (ii) improving river health; and (iii) building trust and transparency between governments and communities.
“The Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package is a way for all of us to move forward and get the most we can from the plan,” Mr Pitt said.
“Communities have told us in no uncertain terms that they are sick of being talked at and not listened to.
“That feedback came through loud and clear in the Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the Basin report which I released today.
“It’s time to shift our focus to engaging and involving communities in developing the solutions that are right for them and to stop treating the water recovery task as something separate.
“Strong representation from government MPs and senators, including Damian Drum, of community issues and concerns throughout the Basin has contributed to the reforms announced today.
“It is why the Liberal and Nationals Government is committed to build a culture of genuine engagement and trust with communities and between governments.”
Mr Drum said it was time to make the Basin Plan pay dividends to communities rather than communities pay for the Basin Plan.
“Our government is committing nearly $40 million to improve compliance to provide the assurance communities and governments are seeking while importantly keeping regionally-based staff in our regions,” Mr Drum said.
“A total of $34 million is being allocated by government across those communities hit hard by water recovery to help increase economic activity, diversify economies and create jobs through the extended Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program.
“There’s $20 million committed to a Healthy Rivers Program to fund community-driven proposals to improve the health of local rivers and wetlands.
“Four new Indigenous river ranger teams will also be stood up across the Basin.
“Importantly, this package includes a new approach to the delivery of Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment projects and the 450GL to help Basin governments and communities achieve Basin Plan requirements.”
Mr Pitt said he looked forward to working with his Basin state colleagues to implement the reforms and deliver the Basin Plan.
A full list of initiatives is available in the Murray-Darling Community Investment Package available on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s website.