MONDAY, 7 MAY 2018

Federal Labor has today determined that it will not support the disallowance of Basin Plan Amendment SDL Adjustments Instrument for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan nor will it support a future disallowance motion on the Northern Basin review. This decision from the Labor Party means that the delivery of the full Murray-Darling Basin Plan will be back on track with new levels of compliance and transparency.

The agreement means that the 450GL is back on track, and will start to be accumulated and that compliance will return to the Northern Basin.

In reaching this decision Labor has been mindful of ensuring that all elements of the Plan would be properly implemented, that the independence of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority would be preserved and that the demands of the Labor Party which had been put forward in February 2018 would be met.

Legitimate questions have been posed concerning the content of the Northern Basin review and the SDL adjustment mechanism. The best way to deal with these concerns is through improved transparency, new auditing and compliance requirements to ensure a healthy working basin. Labor has also been determined to make sure that decisions about the volumes required to restore the system to health are determined by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and do not instead become subjected to the daily amendment of the political process.

Labor made it clear that in any negotiation with the Government it sought the following:

  • assurances around the Government’s commitment to deliver the 450GL of environmental water (efficiency measures)
  • assurances that the concerns regarding the quality of projects to deliver the 605GLof environmental equivalent outcomes will be resolved
  • The need for taxpayer funded environmental water to be used for environmental purposes
  • A comprehensive response to allegations of corruption / water theft in the Northern Basin
  •  Indigenous consultation and engagement in water planning / governance
  • The accuracy of data and modelling assumptions.


The Government has now provided a package of measures which provides Labor with sufficient confidence that the Basin Plan is back on track. These include:

·         the commencement of recovering the 450GL of environmental water through an expression of interest

·         assurance that the 605GL project will be delivered by linking the payments for supply measures with efficiency measures for environmental water (450GL of water for the environment)

Critically this agreement means that the 450GL which was put into doubt by former water minister Barnaby Joyce is now back on the table and the process to acquire that water will now commence.

The package of measures also means there is now a serious response to the allegations of water theft in the northern basin which had the potential to undermine the foundations in the water market on which the plan rests. These include:

  • protection of environmental water through daily extraction limits and embargos on irrigators pumping during environmental water releases
  • metering and ‘no meter no pump’ rules
  • a new Northern Basin commissioner

The full package can be viewed here

Labor will also commit to strengthen the SDL reconciliation process. We will work with stakeholders about the best way to do this, whether it is a legislative change or guaranteeing the independence of the reconciliation.  If, on reconciliation, the projects do not deliver the full 605GL then Labor would make up the shortfall through buyback.

This puts the Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on a solid footing to provide a pathway for the rivers to return to health. 


Tony Burke