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Published: 08 June 2018   •   Media release

The Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council met in Canberra today to discuss progress and next steps to support full implementation of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

The Ministerial Council is chaired by the Hon. David Littleproud MP (Commonwealth). Other members attending were the Hon. Niall Blair MLC (NSW), the Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham MP (Queensland), the Hon. David Speirs MP (South Australia), the Hon. Lisa Neville MP (Victoria), and Mr Mick Gentleman MLA (ACT). Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Commonwealth) was also present.

Ministers welcomed the new Basin Compliance Compact. It represents a significant milestone in securing a consistent and transparent approach to ensuring compliance with all Commonwealth and state laws applicable to water use in the Basin.

Ministers agreed the critical role that metering and transparency plays in ensuring water management systems are effective and to secure community support. All Basin governments committed to working over time to put in place robust metering arrangements across the Basin.  Progress will be reported through the arrangements put in place in the Compact. The Commonwealth has agreed to include in its forthcoming water recovery program scope for funding for meters and to explore other potential options for assisting irrigators to pay for meters. It also contains a commitment for Basin governments to report annually on progress. The MDBA and the MDBA’s Independent Assurance Committee will provide assurance so that the community has confidence that the Compact commitments are being implemented.

Ministers acknowledged the importance of prompt and comprehensive implementation of these shared commitments.

Ministers highlighted strong progress made so far on water compliance and monitoring in the Murray–Darling Basin and in particular acknowledged the positive actions in NSW and Queensland outlined by the Hon. Niall Blair and the Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham.

Ministers also thanked Dr Wendy Craik for her work in assisting Basin jurisdictions to bring together all the findings from the various Basin water use compliance reviews and audits that are reflected in the Compact. The Compact will be provided to the Council of Australian Governments for endorsement at its next meeting.

Ministers noted the recent agreement of the Australian Parliament to the critically important Basin Plan amendment that arose from the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism and the anticipated support of the Parliament for the Northern Basin Review amendment. Ministers acknowledged the package of commitments announced by the Commonwealth on 7 May 2018 to secure these amendments. The package includes enhanced protection of environmental flows, initiatives to increase transparency and compliance, new measures to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people in the Basin, the appointment of a Northern Basin Commissioner and increased support for communities affected by water recovery.

Ministers confirmed that Basin governments are now committed to the funding and delivery of Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism projects, in consultation with local communities, between now and 2024. To ensure the transparency of the projects and their implementation, the MDBA will actively monitor the integrity of Sustainable Diversion Limits and the operation of the adjustment mechanism. They will also convene annual workshops that bring technical experts together to discuss the projects, their desired outcomes and implementation approaches.  Ministers also noted that Basin state and territory governments will continue to work together to progress the development of an integrated work plan for constraints measures.

Ministers noted that the Commonwealth will shortly launch a new Basin-wide infrastructure program.  This program will assist in recovering remaining gap-bridging water required by June 2019 and progress the recovery of water through efficiency measures with neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.  This expression of interest will include urban, industrial, off-farm, and water metering infrastructure. For South Australia, Queensland and the ACT the program will also include applications for on-farm infrastructure.

Ministers noted that this expression of interest would not preclude projects coming forward directly from Basin state governments. In relation to state-led efficiency measures, southern Basin state governments will work together to develop and propose arrangements that achieve water recovery with neutral or improved social and economic outcomes. These arrangements will complement the roll-out of Commonwealth-led efficiency measures in the southern Basin as defined above.

Ministers agreed that the first priority for efficiency measures is to recover the 62 gigalitres required by June 2019 to ensure that the full 605-gigalitre supply adjustment comes into effect.  They welcomed projects expected to be forthcoming from the Basin state and territory governments including:

  • A range of off-farm and urban projects to be developed by NSW in consultation with industry, community and the Commonwealth
  • Opportunities for efficiency measures in Queensland that benefit the northern Basin
  • Investigating urban and industrial efficiency measure opportunities and building on the existing on-farm irrigation efficiency pilot to recover between 2 and 5 gigalitres in South Australia
  • Channel upgrading, improved system viability, and pipelining for stock and domestic supplies in Victoria that are estimated to yield up to 9 gigalitres, and
  • A proposed urban water initiative integrating water security and waterway improvement activities in the Australian Capital Territory with potential for a 15 gigalitre efficiency contribution.

In relation to the potential for on-farm infrastructure efficiency measures, state and territory governments and the Commonwealth government will work to develop agreed additional program criteria to ensure neutral or beneficial socio‑economic outcomes.  Additional program criteria could take into account wider regional impacts and the impact of cumulative implementation of programs.  This work will come to the next Ministerial Council meeting for decision by the end of 2018.

The need for effective communication and consultation was acknowledged. The Commonwealth, in consultation with the state and territory governments, will engage with relevant water management authorities, key stakeholders and communities to build social licence and understanding of the need for the efficiency measures program.

Ministers further agreed that officials would develop an efficiency measures work plan through to 2024, consistent with the COAG Plan.  This will deliver a pathway to achieving the remaining water recovery of 450 gigalitres through efficiency measures with neutral or beneficial socio-economic outcomes.

Ms Jody Swirepik, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, provided an update on Basin environmental water holdings, the delivery of water and the outcomes achieved to date. Ms Swirepik also updated the Council on the Northern Connectivity event which has received tremendous community support.  The cooperation between the NSW agencies and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has been critical to planning and delivery of this event and ensuring its protection over 2000 kilometres. Ms Swirepik reiterated her commitment to greater engagement with Aboriginal communities on decisions about the use of environmental water in order that benefits can be extended to Aboriginal values and uses.

Ministers welcomed the increased commitment of all jurisdictions to engage, work with and actively involve Aboriginal communities in all aspects of water management. All governments have committed to active involvement and consultation with Aboriginal communities in the development of Water Resource Plans. Further, governments have committed to support Aboriginal communities to work with water managers that enable improved delivery of water for cultural purposes. Ministers acknowledged and welcomed the additional measures to support increased engagement provided by the Commonwealth in its announcement on 7 May 2018.

Ministers reiterated their commitment to strengthen engagement with communities and stakeholders across the Murray-Darling Basin.  The Basin Community Committee presented to the Council highlighting the need to stay the course in implementing the Basin Plan and acknowledged the positive progress over the last 12 months particularly in compliance.  Ministers thanked all committee members for their service and contributions to the Basin as their term is drawing to an end. 

Ends

Media contacts:

  • Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud: Les White, 0409 805 122
  • New South Wales Minister, Niall Blair: Evie Madden, 0409 682 163
  • Victorian Minister, Lisa Neville:  Jessica Evans, 0437 779 243
  • South Australian Minister, David Spiers: David Franchitto, 0466 496 963
  • Queensland Minister, Dr Anthony Lynham: David Potter 0428 411 617
  • Australian Capital Territory Minister, Mick Gentleman: Hayden McGirr, 0434 860 282
  • MDBA media: (02) 6279 0141

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