Environment Victoria today called on federal and state governments to buy back water licences to revive the Murray in the same way the Federal Government will buy fishing licences to protect marine fish stocks.
The $220 million buy-back of marine fishing licences was announced by the Federal Government yesterday to protect the sustainability of the industry and allow fish stocks to recover.
Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign Director Dr Paul Sinclair said the Government should now apply the same principle to unsustainable water use and buy back water licenses from the irrigation industry to revive the Murray River system.
According to the Productivity Commission, irrigators in the Goulburn-Murray, Murray and Murrumbidgee irrigation districts used 4100 billion litres in 2000-2001. That’s over eight times as much water as Melbourne uses in an average year.
“The Commonwealth has shown leadership by tackling the over-allocation of marine fishing licenses. It should now do the same with water licenses on the Murray. Governments have promised the Murray water – but not a drop has been delivered to Australia’s greatest river.’’ Dr Sinclair said.
“The Commonwealth scheme to buy back marine fishing licenses is a fair way of addressing the over-allocation of a natural resource. The same should also apply to unsustainable water-use”, said Dr Sinclair.
In 2003 the Commonwealth, Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia agreed to spend $500 million to reduce irrigation water use by 5% and put the water back for environmental flows to keep native fish, birds and once mighty red gum forests on life support. Not a drop of water has been returned to the Murray.
In October Prime Minister John Howard said he wanted to see “more urgency” injected into the pace of restoring environmental flows. The South Australian Government favours a buyback scheme and Minister for the River Murray Karlene Maywald has called on federal Liberal MPs to support the plan.
“Australians should be proud of the Murray. But the river’s current condition is national disgrace. No Australian should be prepared to hand over stewardship of the Murray to future generations when it’s in such a degraded condition. Government’s have an obligation to revive the Murray. That obligation is not being met”, said Dr Sinclair.