Flood of complaints after Burke’s announcement

IT’S been labelled as a plan which will hopefully end a century of bickering over the use of Australia’s biggest river system.
Nanjing Night Net

After more than five years of consultation and compromise with environmentalists and industry groups, federal Water Minister Tony Burke finally announced the contents of the final Murray-Darling Basin plan yesterday.

There were no surprises in the plan announced by Mr Burke, which adhered to previously floated targets of 2750 gigalitres of water to be returned to the basin plus a further 450 gigalitres, close to the capacity of Sydney Harbour, to be found through on-farm efficiences.

Of the initial 2750 gigalitres, 2100 will be acquired by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority through strategic buyback and infrastructure investment, while the states will be responsible for recovering the remaining 650 gigalitres.

Mr Burke said that any strategic buybacks would be conducted at a much slower pace than previous buyback schemes.

“The big tender buyback rounds that we’ve seen in the past are now a thing of the past,” he said.

But there is no provision for a cap on buybacks under the plan, which member for Riverina Michael McCormack and the NSW government have been calling for.

There will be no need for buybacks for the 650 gigalitres the states are responsible for if they can demonstrate environmental works and measurements have contributed to returning water to the basin.

Previously implemented water saving measures will also be recognised as part of that 650-gigalitre provision.

Despite the announcement, serious questions still remain over the plan, with no indication from Mr Burke on where the recovered water will go or when an environmental watering plan will be put together.

“We’ve still yet to see how the amount of water can be justified and how much of it is needed, where it is going to go and how it is going to be used to water those so-called icon sites,” Mr McCormack said.

Mr McCormack said the next step was to change taxation laws for irrigation companies so they can accept grants from the government to install efficiency measures without being penalised by the implications arising from income and capital gains tax obligations.

“Without those really desperately needed taxation changes, the likes of Murrumbidgee Irrigation won’t be able to roll out the water infrastructure projects which will enable environmental water to be recovered,” he said.

“The government promised they would do something about that in February 2011 and nearly two years on, we’ve not yet seen a commitment to do that.”

The basin plan will be formally presented to parliament next week, where it will remain for 15 sitting days to see if a disallowance motion is moved against it before it is signed into law, unless Mr Burke moves to allow a debate over it.

Water Minister Tony Burke

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