Plan critics told to be patient

July 04, 2017

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville responds to the Wentworth Group of concerned Scientists: "It was never a 3200 GI plan".

The Victorian Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority have refuted claims there have been no advances in basin-wide health since the introduction of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

They have also urged caution in expecting major improvements across the basin in just five years.

They were responding to last week’s criticism of the basin plan by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said there had been substantial water recovery and substantial work being done on environmental structural works.

‘‘From our monitoring there has certainly been improvements in terms of environmental outcomes and that will improve as we get closer to the 2750Gl under the plan,’’ Ms Neville said.

Questioned about the Wentworth Group’s wish for ‘‘full delivery’’ of 3200Gl of environmental water, Ms Neville said the legislation was very clear.

‘‘This is a 2750Gl plan plus, if you can deliver in a neutral or better socio-economic way, you can deliver an uplift of 450Gl on top of that,’’ she said.

‘‘It was never a 3200 plan. It was 2750, plus the 450 based on neutral socio-economic outcomes.

‘‘At the moment the ministers group have all agreed for further work to understand the impact of 450Gl (more) water.

‘‘That work is being undertaken by Ernst and Young.’’

Ms Neville said there was some evidence that the ‘‘triple bottom line’’ of environmental, economic and social outcomes was not being achieved in some places.

‘‘There is a significant impact on the dairy industry, in particular the Goulburn Murray region,’’ she said.

‘‘If we can deliver the 450 in a way that is required under the legislation, it will have our full backing.

‘‘We have to make sure that when we make the decision we get the balance right.’’

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phil Glyde said he understood the Wentworth Group’s frustration but excellent progress had been made.

‘‘You don’t turn around 100 years of overuse of the basin in five years,’’ Mr Glyde told ABC radio’s AM program as it broadcast from different parts of the Murray-Darling Basin each morning last week.

‘‘Governments have made excellent progress over the last five years,’’ he said.

‘‘I can understand the Wentworth Group’s frustration.

‘‘They were at the time in 2012 campaigning for an even greater amount of water to be returned to the environment more quickly, but we’ve got to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t break the socio-economic fabric of, you know, an iconic part of Australia’s landscape.

‘‘It’s 14 per cent of the country, there’s a million square kilometres and about half — quite a lot of our agricultural production, $20billion — comes out of it.

‘‘We’ve got to make these changes slowly and carefully.

‘‘But the point is, I think we’re seeing some good early signs of success both on the economic side but also the environmental side as well.’’

Mr Glyde said the MDBA was criticised for not listening or understanding.

‘‘We do understand. But by the same token, I can understand why people in towns like Collarenebri, like Deniliquin, Dirranbandi, Shepparton, they’re really struggling as they make this change and they’re bearing the brunt of a lot of this reform, which in the long run is great.

‘‘It’s going to be fantastic for the basin as a whole, it’s going to be fantastic for Australia.’’

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