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Murray–Darling Basin ministers meet in Mildura

The Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council met in Mildura to progress matters relating to implementation of the Basin Plan.

Ministers acknowledged the welcome provided by the Mildura community.

The Ministerial Council was appreciative of the insights of a roundtable with Aboriginal, environmental, local government and agricultural industry representatives.

Many travelled considerable distances to attend. The roundtable influenced the discussions held by the council.

The council is chaired by the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP (Commonwealth). Other members attending were the Hon. Niall Blair MP (NSW), the Hon. Lisa Neville MP (Victoria), the Hon. Ian Hunter (South Australia) and the Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham (Queensland). The Hon. Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Commonwealth), was also in attendance.

Ministers discussed recent progress towards major milestones in the implementation of the Basin Plan, in particular the extensive community engagement as part of the Basin Plan amendments process.

Ministers were updated on progress with the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism and its scope to improve the socio-economic and environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan. Ministers were informed by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) that the SDL adjustment mechanism is on track to maximise the offsets outcome. Basin governments will need to settle the details of the package of measures in time for the Ministerial Council to make a decision regarding a second notification in June 2017. The MDBA will make its final determination of the SDL adjustment by 15 December 2017.

Through an agreed package of supply measures under the SDL adjustment mechanism, Basin governments are seeking to offset the full remaining water recovery gap in the southern Basin. Governments have identified a credible pathway to achieving this aim.

Ministers agreed to a plan to present to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that provides credible and balanced possible pathways to implement the Murray–Darling Basin Plan package agreed in 2012, including:

  • Supply measures to offset the Basin Plan water recovery target of 2,750 gigalitres (GL) by 2019, using the SDL Adjustment Mechanism;
  • Constraints measures to address impediments to delivering environmental water; and
  • Efficiency measures to recover an additional 450 GL by 2024, consistent with the Basin Plan legal requirement to achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes.

The plan will be presented to COAG First Ministers at their next meeting and released to the community at that time.

Ministers agreed to the terms of reference for an independent analysis of efficiency measures, to ensure neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes, which will report in December 2017. This study will report on the potential socio-economic impacts from the design of measures at a range of scales, including socio-economic concerns that go beyond the specific legal requirements of the Basin Plan, and on strategies that may be required to ensure neutral or improved social and economic outcomes. The study will take into account information arising from the Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s evaluation of Basin Plan impacts and any other relevant information. Together with the MDBA evaluation, this will provide Ministers with a comprehensive set of information on the cumulative socio-economic impacts of the Basin Plan, including the recovery of the 450 GL through efficiency measures.

Ministerial Council agreed that complementary environmental projects can provide real environmental benefits and agreed to seek options to better embed complementary measures as a key element of achieving Basin Plan outcomes. Work is continuing to develop a method for assessing these benefits, and Ministers will be updated as this work continues.

The MDBA provided Ministers with an update on the proposed amendments to the Basin Plan, particularly those arising from the Northern Basin Review. Once the MDBA has considered community input provided during the public consultation phase, each Minister will be provided with the proposed amendments. Council will then have the opportunity to provide the MDBA with its response.

Ministers noted work currently underway in NSW and Queensland to further assess a range of ‘toolkit’ measures, including to achieve environmental outcomes intended to support the proposed outcomes of the Northern Basin Review.

The MDBA has recommended the following toolkit measures:

  • Targeted recovery of water
  • Event-based mechanisms
  • Improved protection, management and coordination of environmental flows
  • Gwydir constraints and targeted environmental works and measures, such as fishways.

Ministers acknowledged that these measures are intended to achieve environmental outcomes with less water, particularly during dry times.

Ministers reiterated the importance of receiving regular update reports from the CEWH on its environmental water portfolio, associated decision-making and outcomes achieved. This will provide greater understanding and transparency about the ecological outcomes being delivered by the Basin Plan through environmental water held by the CEWH.

The next meeting of the Ministerial Council will be held in Canberra in June 2017.

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