The vote this evening in the Senate guarantees that we still have a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It doesn’t change the fact that there will be continued risks to the Plan in to the future.

That’s why the implementation of the different issues agreed between Labor and the Government are so important. It is critical now that work on acquiring the 450GL commences,  that metering in the north proceeds, that improved compliance is a reality and that the new levels of transparency are observed in the letter and in the spirit of the agreement.

The negotiations with Minister Littleproud have been honest and in good faith. While we will all remain vigilant I am confident that the agreements will be honoured.

I am particularly pleased that we have also managed to include something that I had not been able to put into the Plan back in 2012. For the first time there will now be a fund for first nations in the Northern and Southern Basin to be able to acquire water entitlements It by no means concludes what needs to be done with respect for cultural water but it is a step in the right direction and I am please the Government has been willing to make it.

Most importantly the Plan exists to restore the Basin to health. The projects that were subject of the disallowance vote today will take some years to complete. They need to be constantly monitored and if they do not stack up in the final reconciliation then Labor will purchase the water required to fill the gap through buyback.

The agreement with the Government also involved undertakings from Labor that we would support legislative amendments to the Water Act to allow the Northern Basin instruments to be re-enacted and would then not support disallowance of those instruments.

There will continue in the years ahead to be situations where individual ministers at a Federal or state level or individual members of Parliament try to destroy the Plan. We saw for 100 years what the Murray-Darling Basin looks like without a plan. When different sides were not meeting in the middle, the river turned up to the negotiating table and was the toughest and most uncompromising negotiator of all. In keeping the Plan together we make sure that we don’t go back to the days where personal interest allowed the rivers to be starved of water.


Tony Burke