By Terri Butler MP

04 September 2020

Labor looks forward to hearing, in greater detail, what the Morrison Government intends to do about the overwhelming lack of progress in relation to the 450GL upwater target.

The Water for the Environment Special Account Report, released today, bluntly asserts that “450 GL will not be recovered by 30 June 2024”. It says:

“Only 1.9 GL, or less than 1% of the required volume, has been recovered to date (as at February 2020). To recover almost the entire 450 GL in the less than 4.5 years remaining, the rate of recovery would need to accelerate to more than 100 GL per year, starting immediately. The panel does not consider that this is realistic at this stage.”

The Morrison government must explain this failure.

It comes despite the Liberal National government having paid for a report from EY,received in January 2018, that claimed that “the 450GL can be delivered with neutral or positive socio-economic impacts,” and offered advice as to the program design to do so.

The Morrison government must also tell Australians what it intends to do to address the significant water market issues acknowledged in the ACCC’s interim report.

Australia’s Murray Darling Basin Plan is worth $13 billion in total and the value of agricultural production in the Basin is $24 billion annually.

Labor has been continuously calling for action from the Government to address the disastrous lack of water transparency that is paralysing communities in the Murray Darling Basin, damaging our economy, and crushing public trust.

Farmers, traditional owners, the environment, communities and Australians more broadly are paying the price for the Morrison Government's incompetence in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Morrison Government has also belatedly listened to Labor and the Productivity Commission in deciding to stop the Murray Darling Basin Authority from marking its own homework.

The Government has tacitly admitted that it has been asleep at the wheel in relation to establishing and empowering the Inspector for the Murray Darling Basin. This is a position that was announced over a year ago. Yet it has not yet attained permanency, a statutory basis, or any powers.

Labor will carefully consider the proposal to separate the compliance function from the MDBA and merge it with the renamed “Inspector General of Water Compliance”.

We will scrutinise any outcome of the Commonwealth’s discussions with the states in relation to the new model. We will also properly consider any proposed legislation, if and when it has been drafted.

But this is yet another announcement without a plan, which is typical of this government. As recently as a year ago the Basin States were not persuaded by the Productivity Commission’s 2018 recommendation to split up the MDBA. Instead, they opted for the Inspector-General model. This new model is likely to require their agreement.

One of the great problems with this government is that there’s a new announcement every day, but they never deliver. Just like with the bushfires, aged care, drought and Australia’s worst recession in almost a century, Scott Morrison is always there for the photo op, but never there for the follow-up.