South Versus North Over Water
South Australia and Victoria have refused to co-operate with the Commonwealth over Inspector-General of Water, Mick Keelty’s, enquiry into water allocations This was revealed at the Water Ministers Meeting held in Brisbane on Tuesday.
The enquiry was initiated by Commonwealth Water Minister David Littleproud in response to demands from farmers in the Southern Murray Darling basin for a fairer allocation of water. These farmers have threatened to campaign against Coalition politicians in upcoming elections if they are not given immediate access to water.
South Australian Water Minister, David Spiers, and Victorian Minister, Lisa Neville, claim the enquiry is unnecessary. Speaking outside the Ministerial Council meeting in Brisbane on Tuesday, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said her state would not participate.
"There is not misuse of water in our system," Ms Neville said.
"People are not getting an unfair share of water in our system, so why would we take people through a process of a review that gives people an expectation we're about to find a whole lot of water that does not exist, while throwing into doubt the rules that have served us very well in the past?"
David Littleproud said that the enquiry would go ahead even if the two states refused to co-operate. This means he will honour his undertaking to the farmers whose attention will now be focused on the two southern states who are not suffering the same consequences from the drought.
In the mean- time NSW, which had threatened to pull out of the Murray Darling Basin Plan so that its farmers could have access to water, has agreed to stay in the plan.
After the meeting, NSW Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, said although it has not left the MDBP , it will not contribute to the recovery of an additional 450 gigalitres of water for South Australia.
"We are still in the Plan, but we have had major wins and major concessions here today, to acknowledge the challenges that NSW faces," she said.
"But we have made it very clear we have no more to give to the 450GL."
NSW is relying on the deal struck last year among the states, which said no water could be recovered unless there’s no negative social, economic or environmental outcomes for the other jurisdictions.
The state also received extensions on its water sharing plans, which are already behind schedule.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has vowed to fight any moves to reduce water flows to that state. If the Victorian Government refuses to increase flows to offset those not being provided by NSW then the ACT will be pressured to make more water available from its catchments. ACT dams are already below 50% and falling fast.
Mr Littleproud said that there was a legal obligation to deliver at least 62 Gl of the 450Gl and that would have to found from somewhere. However, the Productivity Commission has warned that recovery of the water is difficult, especially without water buybacks, and the projects to use the extra water were unproven.
Mick Keelty will complete his report in March. If Victoria and South Australia do not co-operate they will be at the mercy of its findings which may be based on imperfect information. But this won’t worry the waterless farmers who will be baying for blood.
The push back from farmers will not concern Daniel Andrews, who does not rely on the rural vote to stay in government, but Steven Marshall cannot afford to lose his rural support base who are demanding they get the 450Gl.
This means the water war is a long way from over.