Reports have surfaced that Victorian Water Minister, Harriet Shing, has halted work on several of the nine Victorian Murray floodplain restoration projects, due to fears the federal government will not reimburse it for the work.
Under the $320 million funding agreement with the federal government, Victoria must deliver the projects by June 30, 2024. Covid-19 restrictions and other delays have meant Victoria has fallen behind on the projects.
The floodplain restoration projects were to have pumps, powerlines, regulators and flood banks installed in the icon sites to deliver environmental water.
To date, Victoria has spent more than $54 million on the design, survey and environmental assessments of the projects.
Many of the projects have faced strong opposition from community members and traditional owners as they felt dealt with poor engagement and little input into the design and process.
14,000ha of floodplains at nine icon sites along the river, from the Gunbower Forest to lagoons and wetlands downstream of Mildura at Lindsay Island were included.
The floodplain works were modelled to save 72.5 gigalitres in delivering environmental water more efficiently, thus reducing the volume of water the federal government plans to buy out of irrigation communities as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s 605GL of Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism.
Irrigators now fear that Federal Minister Plibersek will now push on with further buybacks, adding to the current round of buybacks, all bringing with them perverse social, economic and environmental impacts.
The National Irrigators’ Council (NIC) has expressed concern that Victoria has halted work on the projects.
NIC CEO Isaac Jeffrey said, “New South Wales and Victoria have promised to deliver SDLAM projects which improve waterways and management. Completion of these projects means more water can stay growing our grapes, fruit, nuts, vegetables, cotton, sugar, cereals and dairy products we all take for granted.
“Failure to deliver these projects will force the Commonwealth to buy back water – stripping jobs, businesses, trade and food security from Australia in an act of incredible self-sabotage. Communities have suffered before and will again if buybacks are re-instigated.
“Shortfalls in SDLAM and the Efficiency Measures programs could see more than 760 gigalitres of water bought back if the Commonwealth continues to doggedly pursue volumes over outcomes. 760 gigalitres is around 25 per cent of the water used to grow food and fibre in the Southern Basin. That’s 25 per cent less water for growing tomatoes, oranges, rice, grapes, grain, almonds, soybeans, wine, canola, melons, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, lemons, limes, asparagus, pumpkin, dairy products, legumes, apples and so much more.
“To put it in context, the Commonwealth could shut the entire irrigation farming sectors down in all of South Australia, the Western Murray and Sunraysia districts and still need more water to meet this number in a plan written over a decade ago, which fails to account for the vast improvements in science, technology and water management.”
Deputy leader of the Nationals and Shadow Water Minister, Senator Perin Davey, said the cancellation is a direct result of the Federal Government refusing Victoria’s request for a two-year extension to the deadline for delivery of SDLAM projects.
“Despite the Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, saying all options would be on the table to deliver the Basin Plan, the one option both NSW and Victoria have asked for has been refused,” Senator Davey said.
“The Albanese Government was informed last year that agreements to fund environmental projects needed to be locked in by October 2022 or an extension was needed. We are now seeing the results of Minister Plibersek’s decision not to make a decision.
“The Victorian Government has repeatedly called on Minister Plibersek to be flexible on the 2024 deadline for some complex projects because they need to be co-designed with communities”.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 27 April 2023.