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MINCo continues plan traditions

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Last week, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority sang the praises of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MINCo) meeting outcomes.

Hot topics were climate change, delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, water buybacks and First Nations water.

When it came to the almost $2 billion unregulated water trading industry that impacts communities, rural economies and the environment, it seems implementing legislation already in place was not on the radar.

The state and federal governments had previously agreed to a water register and admitted at senate estimates to spending $30 million in building one, to then drop it with no explanation.

Mechanisms in legislation for protecting river health from water trading also seem to go unacted upon by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. While the legislative controls remain on the cutting room floor, MINCo did agree in principle to implement all recommendations of the Quinlivan water market reform roadmap based off the ACCC enquiry.

Discussions also included Labor’s election promise to remove an additional 450,000 megalitres to complement the huge volumes held by Australia’s largest irrigator, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

Despite no road map on how to use, store or deliver the additional water, the Commonwealth has committed to water recovery, not only for the 450GL but also for the other ill-conceived government projects that will not yield the modelled water savings, projects like killing off huge portions of the Menindee Lake system and the Yanco Billabong system.

With the limitations of the river system to cope with exploding downstream developments, downstream environmental targets and end of system flow targets, the relaxing of constraints was also on the MINCo table. Despite half a century of former river managers and industries working within river capacity, the ‘balanced plan’ has seen hydraulic land clearing of the Murray River, impacting ecosystems, river health, infrastructure and flood protection.

The communique stated in relation to the Barmah-Millewa Reach (aka choke) feasibility study, “Ministers committed to agreeing next steps based on options to be presented by the MDBA to Ministers at their next meeting.” I remain unsure on how you can agree to something yet to be presented.

Ministers agreed on the need to improve the wellbeing and cultural connections of First Nations, they received an update on the implementation of the $40 million Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program.

The pillars of social, economic and environmental outcomes that lured basin communities into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan before being removed have re-emerged as part of “strategic land and water acquisitions that could achieve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes” for First Nations people.

The plan rolls on.

The Koodrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 20 October 2022

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 20 October 2022.

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