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What’s going on with the Murray-Darling Basin?

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The Federal Government has updated the Murray-Darling Basin plan that aims to get more water into the river system by 2027.
Murray-Darling Basin

Last week, the Federal Government passed breakthrough legislation for the Murray-Darling Basin.

But before you understand exactly what the latest update on the Murray-Darling Basin is, here’s what you need to know about its background.

What is the Murray-Darling Basin?

The Murray-Darling Basin is the country’s largest and most complex river system. It stretches across parts of QLD, NSW, VIC, SA and the ACT.

About 40% of Australia’s produce comes from the Basin, including 100% of rice and 74% of grapes.

Over the years, increased human use of the Basin, mixed with natural droughts, has led to less water in the Basin. This has negatively impacted its health.

Murray-Darling Basin plan

The federal and state governments agreed to recover 3,200 gigalitres of water for the environment by June 2024.

However, this year, an audit of the Plan found this would not be possible by next year’s deadline. It would be about 750 gigalitres short of its goal.

The audit found there were “clear and significant” challenges to meeting the original goals and “much work to be done”.

New deadline

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek accepted a new deadline to recover the water was needed and last week a new Plan passed Parliament.

The new deadline to recover the total amount of water is 2027.

How?

To reach this new goal, one thing the laws did was remove a cap on how much water the Government can ‘buy back’ from farmers.

This will be a voluntary scheme that means farmers will be invited to sell their water to the Government.

First Nations recognition

The legislation also formally recognised First Nations communities’ connection to the river system for the first time.

There are more than 50 First Nations communities along the Murray-Darling Basin. However, First Nations people make up 0.2% of the Basin’s water entitlements.

The Government has set aside $100 million for the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program, where water licences are specifically bought for the benefit of First Nations communities.

Response

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the new laws were good news for “the environment and more than 2.3 million Australians who depend on the Murray-Darling for our drinking water and our food.”

Federal Nationals MP Michael McCormack opposed the laws, saying buybacks “destroy communities” and would drive
up grocery prices.

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