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Basin plan ignores the environment

What a disappointment. That's what I was thinking upon reading the draft plan released by the Murray Darling Basin Authority yesterday.

The document is particularly distressing for residents in my home state of South Australia, because we are the ones with most to lose should the suffering of the river system continue. Adelaide residents source their water supplies from the river, while South Australian farmers in areas such as the Riverland can only extract what is left behind after their counterparts upstream have taken what they are allocated.

Furthermore, mining companies are seeking to extract double the amount of groundwater allocations they can have. That must be stopped.
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South Australia will be damaged by a river system that does not have enough water in it to flush salt out to sea, to keep open the Murray mouth and replenish bodies including the Coorong and Lower Lakes.

The draft plan recovers less than 2800 gigalitres for the environment, when independent scientists and other environmental experts say a minimum of 4000 is needed to keep it alive. Yet the MDBA chairman Craig Knowles and federal Water Minister Tony Burke have the gall to tell Australians not to concentrate on the numbers.

There's little in the draft plan that advocates for the environment.

If anything, I'd argue there is less in the new document than its predecessor, the guide to a draft of last year, because at least the old document included the consequences of climate change. It modelled a reduction in allocations of 3 per cent, but the draft plan doesn't include any modelling. Incredible.

There's also no modelling in the draft plan showing how the environment will fare with allocations of less than 2800 gigalitres. In its review of the ''environmentally sustainable level of take'', the CSIRO told the authority this month that it was not clear how the 2800 figure was arrived at.

It is very concerning that the authority is appearing to be retreating from buybacks, as they are proven to be the best and most cost-effective way to return water to the system.

Australians want the plan to work, and for it to deliver value for their money. If the plan does not make the Murray-Darling healthy, $10 billion of taxpayers' money will have been wasted.

The Gillard government must not use the draft plan and the subsequent 20 weeks of public consultation as a way of selling out the environment. Mr Burke has already said the government is trying to get the balance right, but we in the Greens are doubtful about that, because there is so little that will be returned to the environment.

Unless there are improvements to the draft plan that result in increased environmental flows and better value for money, I will be recommending to the Greens party room that we vote the plan down when it is presented to the parliament.

The government might say it is trying to balance competing interests, but if one of those interests cannot budge - the needs of the environment, repeatedly expressed by scientists - no other needs can be met.

The draft plan ignores the wider needs of the communities living in the basin. This must be improved during the forthcoming community consultations.

South Australia's Labor Premier, Jay Weatherill, says the basin needs a minimum of 4000 gigalitres, not what is being proposed in the draft plan. I hope he will join with me in being a strident voice for the basin, because his counterparts in NSW, Queensland and Victoria will be ensuring their states extract as much as possible before the water reaches the South Australian border.

Interstate, the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce has made his usual hysterical statements, this time talking about amputations and towns.

The Greens are gearing up for a major fight to maximise the volume to be returned to the environment before the final plan is presented to federal parliament. We don't intend backing down. The Basin system has suffered enough from all the decades of delay and dithering and lack of responsibility by the state and federal governments. It can't afford any more.


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