ADELAIDE, Australia — The Nationals have launched an audacious bid to dramatically shake up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan with a new push to scrap 450 gigalitres of water earmarked for the environment.
Emboldened after the return of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister, the Nationals will move amendments to a government bill in the Senate on June 23.
Under the proposed changes, the requirement for 450 gigalitres of environmental water which would benefit Southern Australia, provided there were no negative social or economic impacts, would be dumped all together.
While the government has ruled out water buybacks, the proposed amendments would enshrine the ban in law.
In addition, no new water for the environment would be allowed after the plan concludes.
Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie, who is tipped to return to the cabinet as early as this week, is leading the charge for the changes.
“For too long our basin communities have been hurting, the science is now telling us the approach adopted 12 years ago is outdated and the plan must change,” she said.
South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick said the amendments were completely at odds with government policy.
“Scott Morrison must act now and strip the Nationals of the water portfolio,” he said.
Patrick tweeted “With Joyce Barnaby back in control of the Nationals and Scott Morrison too afraid to strip them of the water portfolio, it’s time to revive the Tiser campaign to save our Murray River. The Murray Darling Basin plan’s 3200 gigalitres must be delivered in full.”
The basin plan has recovered 2100 gigalitres of its 2750 gigalitres environmental water target, with the rest coming from water offset projects.
But there is widespread concern the remainder of the water will not be recovered.
The Nationals’ proposal would allow new projects to be added if existing plans do not meet the requirement.
Senator Penny Wong tweeted “The Morrison Government can’t be trusted to deliver the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Barnaby Joyce is trying to rip out the 450GL of water promised for the health of the River Murray. This is a test for Morrison — is he leading this nation, or is he being led by the Nationals?”
“We all need to live and adjust to a world with less water, including the environment,” Senator McKenzie said.
“While we need to protect the environment we also need to protect our food security.”
Nationals senators will aim to tackle the changes on to a bill giving substantive powers to the inspector-general of the basin.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Praveen Pramod Tewari)
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