A Senate inquiry report tabled today shows cross-party support for improving legislation to restore rivers in the Murray-Darling, giving the Albanese Government an opportunity to significantly improve its bill.
Peak environment groups across NSW, VIC, QLD and SA have called on the government to consult with stakeholders and negotiate amendments with the cross-bench that will ensure the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 guarantees environmental water will be recovered and recognises the rights of First Nations.
Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:
“After ten years of neglect, what our wetlands and wildlife need right now is real water flowing down rivers and into floodplains, revitalising the landscape ahead of long, hot summers to come.
“This report demonstrates there is cross-party support to strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers bill so that it delivers real outcomes for the environment, First Nations and Basin communities.
“The committee endorsed the Productivity Commission’s findings that a number of unviable offset projects will never deliver real water for the river and therefore should be scrapped, and no more dodgy projects should be allowed into the scheme.
“However, in a number of important respects the majority report falls short of what’s needed. While recognising the importance of timely and reliable water recovery, the recommendations do not guarantee this will occur. Climate change has been kicked down the track.
“The onus is now on the government to develop amendments that address the recommendations made by the majority report as well as the further recommendations from the Greens and crossbench Senators.”
Conservation Council of NSW Water Campaigner Melissa Gray said:
“Despite some positive steps from the Senate inquiry report into the Murray-Darling, the Darling-Baaka is still left high and dry.
“Fish kills will continue unless more water is recovered in the Northern Basin ahead of the next drought.
“It is critical the Government takes this opportunity to embed the rights of First Nations People in the Water Act.
“This bill does nothing to address the significant impact climate change is already having on our inland rivers. Kicking the can down the road until 2026 will leave inland rivers suffering as we enter the next drought.”
Conservation SA Campaign Co-ordinator Char Nitschke said:
“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was created at a time – during the Millenium drought – when there was enormous awareness about how vulnerable we are, as the driest inhabited continent on the planet.
“The Plan itself was the absolute bare minimum that the river needed to survive. Since then there’s been delays, dodgy policies and incredibly slow progress.
“The river is already stressed and with the return of El Nino and drought forecast, further delays could be catastrophic. We need iron-clad guarantees written into the legislation that real water will be returned to the river.”
Queensland Conservation Council Water Policy Officer Nigel Parratt said:
“We need a solid guarantee of real water that flows down the river and across floodplains, rejuvenating the landscape, not just more delays and dodgy schemes.
“We’re disappointed that the committee’s recommendations don’t include legally binding assurances that the required water recovery will be achieved within the extended timeframes – this seems a missed opportunity.”
Greg Foyster, Rivers and Nature Campaign Manager