Water Minister tackles Basin Plan dissent

Water Minister David Littleproud at Lock Five in Renmark, during a tour of the Southern Basin this week.
Water Minister David Littleproud at Lock Five in Renmark, during a tour of the Southern Basin this week.

A loud group of irrigators with an array of complaints about the water market and the Murray Darling Basin Plan are campaigning to either abandon the environmental reform, or at pause and overhaul it. But Water Minister David Littleproud is having none of it.

"I'm going to stand up to the minorities and say don't cut your nose off to spite your face," Mr Littleproud said.

"I have no problem with people expressing their view against me, I'm not perfect, in fact the only bloke who was perfect got nailed to a cross and I don't want that to happen to me."

"You can either do what you want, and get a worse, perverse outcome that destroys our communities. Or you can think sensibly that the last 20 per cent (of water recovery) can be done without buybacks."

A collection of irrigator protest groups are planning another rally at Tocumwal in southern NSW on Thursday.

Anger at the Basin Plan has come to head with drought pushing general security water allocations to zero, and the price of water to dizzying heights.

Irrigators have an array of demands, but a central message is to pause environmental water recovery and the recast water sharing arrangements so that less is delivered to South Australia and more is available to upstream irrigators.

NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP for Murray Helen Dalton is helping to organise the rally. She said a "jobs and industry apocalypse" was unfolding across the Southern Basin and the Basin Plan must be rewritten.

"To meet the (Basin Plan) environmental flow targets more and more water will be sucked out of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers," Ms Dalton said.

"Prices will keep skyrocketing until every agribusiness goes bust".

There are two buckets of water left to fill for the Basin Plan and under law they are contingent on each other.

One is to recover 450 gigalitres of physical water for downstream flows into SA (known as upwater) and the other is 605GL worth of equivalent savings, to be made through infrastructure works that move water through the system more efficiently (known as downwater).

I'm going to stand up to the minorities and say don't cut your nose off to spite your face

David Littleproud

Irrigators are generally happy with delivering downwater to the environment without reducing the irrigation pool, but they are sceptical of the upwater. It was a key concern from loud protest groups such as Southern Riverina Irrigators.

In December last year Mr Littleproud cut a deal with the states to create a new rule, known as the neutrality test, that upwater could only be recovered from an irrigator if it was proved there would be no negative social or economic outcome in the community.

Mr Littleproud said he is puzzled why irrigators demands have shifted since.

"I sat with many of those people and asked what they wanted as a way forward. They clearly said it was the neutrality test in the 450GL.

"If you take away the 450, you take away the opportunity to recover water through infrastructure rather than buybacks and that has been delivered lock, stock and barrel."

Mr Littleproud said rewriting the Basin Plan, or states withdrawing, would be worse for communities.

"Anyone who thinks we can change it, I'm telling them the political reality is near impossible.

"If everyone wants to walk away, the only mechanism that is available to anyone who is water minister is the blunt instrument of buybacks. That's not a threat, it's just reality."

This story Water Minister tackles Basin Plan dissent first appeared on The Land.