A cap which prevents the Government from buying more water from irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin should be removed, says the Opposition.
Labor’s water spokesman Tony Burke said it wanted to remove any restriction that could prevent water being returned to the environment.
“By removing the cap we are making clear that if we end up having to provide more water for the rivers then this will not be a barrier to doing this,” Mr Burke said.
“After the summer we’ve had, you’d have to say there is some possibility that at some point the Murray-Darling Basin Authority conducts its own reviews as it does under law, may well decide that more water has to be returned to the system to health than was previously recommended.”
Labor will introduce its new policy, agreed to by the party yesterday, in a private member’s bill before the Senate this week.
Mr Burke said it was better to remove the cap, set at 1,500 gigalitres, than to rely on compulsory acquisition.
Flexibility needed, says Labor
The cap was legislated in 2015 and marked a shift from Government purchasing water, to investing in infrastructure.
It was established to provide some certainty for communities across the basin.
Rural news in your inbox?
Subscribe for the national headlines of the day.
“This cap was set at a level which provided some assurance for those communities during the early years of the plan,” Mr Burke said.
“But it does not make sense to keep it there as a permanent level because ultimately it will come up against the flexibility that the Authority needs and what it might recommend.”
South Australian Liberal Senator Anne Ruston said that it was a “lazy” politically-driven decision to attempt to remove the cap.
“As of today, 270 billion litres of water is still available through the cap buyback, we haven’t even reached the cap of 1,500 GL,” Ms Ruston said.
Ms Ruston said removing the cap would have a “massively devastating effect” by removing water, and creating uncertainty in the communities.
Removing the cap ‘unnecessary’: irrigators
National Irrigators’ Council chief executive Steve Whan said he was disappointed by Labor’s policy.
“It’s not necessary, there’s still room under the cap,” Mr Whan said.
“It seems to be a breaking down of the bipartisanship, which is vital to the success of the plan.”
Labor’s new policy comes as the Greens are expected to introduce legislation to establish a federal Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin.