The South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan this week released an issues paper arguing environmental concerns overrule social and economic considerations in determining the water volume available to irrigation.
Commissioner Bret Walker said the plan’s governing legislation in the Water Act “requires environmental considerations to be paramount, and that economic and social outcomes are irrelevant to the determination of (the environmentally sustainable level of take)”.
Mr Walker’s interpretation calls into question the sustainable diversion limits offset mechanism, which the MDBA determined could reduce water recovery by 605 gigaltires.
Southern Riverina Irrigators questioned the timing of the release.
“It’s very disappointing the Royal Commission is politicising it at this point in time. The timing is bizarre. The comment is bizarre,” SRI chair Gabrielle Coupland said.
“This positioning is clearly an attempt to influence Senators as they consider the Greens motion to disallow the SDL Adjustment Mechanism amendments.”
Mrs Coupland said the Royal Commission was just muddying the waters and both the Water Act and the Basin Plan have been reviewed and scrutinised multiple times.
“Before finalising the Basin Plan, then Minister Tony Burke released advice from the Australian Government Solicitor that he said confirms social and economic aspects can be given consideration,” she said.
“Then again in 2014 the independent panel charged with reviewing the Water Act found that the Act’s aim is to promote the use and management of the Basin to optimise social, economic and environmental outcomes while giving effect to international agreements.
“They also found that ‘international agreements themselves recognise the importance of economic factors’,” Mrs Coupland said.
“Do these people really think that Tony Burke would have drafted and written a Plan that included clauses that would make it non-compliant with it’s ruling Act?
“We have faith that previous Governments, the current Government and the MDBA have considered the Water Act very carefully.
“They all want the Basin Plan implemented. We don’t think they would risk it by taking action against the objects.
“We call on the Senate to get on with implementing the Basin Plan in full which includes supporting the adjustment mechanism to get better environmental outcomes and give those living and working in the Basin certainty.”
The future of the plan would be in jeopardy if the Senate supports a Greens motion to disallow the government’s approval of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism projects.
“If it gets knocked back the plan will fall over. There’s no question about that,” Mrs Coupland said.
“You can’t blame (NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Regional Water, Trade and Industry) Niall Blair for saying he’s going to walk away … All the hard work and reform that has been done with good intentions has been politicised.”