Environment Minister Peter Garrett has cynically approved a pipeline allowing Victoria to rip more water out of the Murray before a relevant Parliamentary Committee reports, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
“In approving the north-south pipeline, Mr Garrett has today put water for Melbourne ahead of water for the Murray,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“At a time when there is a serious shortage of water in the Murray-Darling Basin, with particular urgency for the Lower Lakes and Coorong, Mr Garrett has given the green light for the removal of an extra 75 gigalitres (GL) a year.
“This decision offsets millions of dollars worth of licence buybacks throughout the system.
“Bear in mind that the Rudd Government’s initial $50 million buyback bought 36 GL of entitlements, which on current allocations will yield about 1 GL into the Lower Lakes, yet today’s decision will rip out an extra 75 GL.
“Worse still, the decision comes just a day after Mr Garrett received a letter* from a combination of non-Government Senators urging him to wait until a Senate inquiry into the Murray had concluded its findings, due by the end of this month.
“With evidence to the inquiry likely to canvas aspects of the pipeline proposal and its consequences for the Murray-Darling Basin more generally, waiting on the inquiry’s findings seemed to non-Government Senators very reasonable.
“It’s all very well for Mr Garrett to have considered threatened species such as the striped legless lizard and the matted flax lily, but it might have been nice if he’d considered the health of the River Murray too.
“When John Howard first committed $10 billion to saving the Murray, it was never envisaged the money would be used to send more water to Melbourne.
“The Government keeps telling us it can’t make it rain, but it would help if it could put the health of the Murray at the heart of its decision-making.”
*Text of 10 September letter from non-Government Senators to Mr Garrett follows.
The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
CANBERRA ACT 2600
We write in relation to the proposal by Melbourne Water to construct and operate a water pipeline and associated infrastructure to transfer up to 75 gigalitres of water per year from the Goulburn River to the Sugarloaf Reservoir, commonly known as the North South Pipeline.
We understand your decision, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, on whether the project may proceed is imminent and, according to correspondence from your department to the “Plug the Pipe” group, will be made by 15 September.
As you will be aware, the Senate has initiated an inquiry, being conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, into water management of the Lower Lakes and Coorong.
The closing date for submissions to this inquiry is 11 September and it is expected that submissions will be received that canvas aspects of the pipeline proposal and its consequences for the Murray-Darling Basin more generally.
As the inquiry’s hearings and deliberations could present new information of direct relevance to your decision on whether the pipeline should proceed, we strongly urge you not to make your decision until the Committee has reported, due by 30 September.
We thank you for your urgent consideration of this matter and look forward to your reply.
Mary Jo Fisher