Updated: Aug 10
Only 2 of a promised 450 gigalitres of water have been delivered to the Murray-Darling Basin with the most recent Water for the Special Environment Account (WESA) report finding that this target for the Murray-Darling Basin plan "cannot be achieved under the current program settings."
Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has criticised the former Coalition government for "sabotaging" this process with "brown tape" which limited what projects would be approved:
“They tied up the water for the environment special account … with irrational rules [in a] deliberate effort to sabotage the plan."
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Murray-Darling Basin plan was originally a $13 billion strategy which decreed in 2012 that 450GL would be returned to the Murray-Darling river system by 2024. The plan originated from the millennium drought, took years to develop, and saw many conflicts between both states and political parties and conservationists and irrigators.
While the 450GL addition was legislated, a deal in 2018, agreed between state and federal water ministers, added the condition that this amount would only be delivered if socioeconomic consequences could be avoided. This has been interpreted to mean that the project would not go ahead in the event that single job could be lost. Only a fraction of the account's $1.775 billion has been allocated with Ms. Plibersek accusing the Coalition government of “deliberately hoping to leave [the WESA money] unspent”.
“This is another report that was kept secret by the previous government...The previous government had no intention on delivering on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – they just didn’t have the guts to admit that before the election...Their failure to deliver on the plan wasn’t due to a lack of money – it was a lack of will.”
When asked if water buybacks were the only feasible option to meet the target, Ms. Plibersek confirmed that "nothing's off the table at this stage." The Australia Institute and Greens have both agreed that buybacks, which were first capped under the Coalition government, are the only means to provide water to the basin.
The current lack of water within the basis threatens many species and habitats. Ms. Plibersek is scheduled to meet with state and territory water ministers throughout early August.