The agreement reached at this month’s meeting of Australian water ministers will likely see the end of the on-farm efficiency programs in which farmers gave up water in exchange for irrigation upgrades.
Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said the new definition around the impact of the transfer of water to the environment, meant that the loss of water from one farm would have to be considered in a wider context for the community.
The water ministers have adopted a new definition for ‘neutral or positive’ socio-economic impact on the transfer of water.
Instead of the impact being judged on one individual, it will be applied to a whole community.
‘‘We now have a better definition by which we can judge any future project that comes forward,’’ Mr Drum said following the decision.
Mr Drum, who attended the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting in Melbourne on December 14, agreed the next step would be to watch closely how the new definition was applied on water projects.
The MinCo meeting overcame resistance from South Australia, which had been expected to be a major blockage.
Mr Drum said the success was due to the national approach spearheaded by Federal Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud.
He said the Federal Government was able to negotiate with the South Australian Government to achieve funding for water projects vital to South Australians.
He said the projects would assist the health of the Coorong and the use of the desalination plant.
‘‘The water minister was able to deliver what the South Australians needed, under an approach which will ultimately benefit Goulburn Murray irrigators.’’
Mr Drum described the outcome as an early Christmas present.
‘‘If we lose the next election and Tony Bourke was in this position, he would have no interest seeing this done.
‘‘Twelve, six and even two months ago everyone was wondering how we were gong to pull all this together.’’
Asked about how the green lobby would respond to the new definition, Mr Drum said the very simple answer was that the extra 450Gl was always an additional amount above the agreed 2750Gl for the Murray-Darling Basin.
‘‘This was always an additional 450, worded in the way of up to 450, if you go back to the original wording.
‘‘We are just returning back to the original wording of the (Murray-Darling Basin) plan.’’
He said the riverine communities had already given up large volumes of water to ensure the future health of the rivers.