Claims to have achieved national management of the Murray Darling Basin have been exposed as little more than a sham under questioning in Senate Estimates, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Department officials, under questioning from Coalition Murray Darling spokesman Simon Birmingham, have confirmed overnight that the New South Wales Government retains a veto right on Menindee Lakes management.
“It is clear from the answers provided that New South Wales retains a veto right over management of the massive Menindee Lakes storage system today, tomorrow and into the future,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Departmental officials have confirmed that despite multiple reviews of the 1992 Murray Darling Basin Agreement, any change to the Agreement must have the consent all parties.
“That will remain the case even after the release of a national Basin Plan, still under development.
“It’s the 1992 Agreement, incorporated into the Water Act 2007,that gives New South Wales control over Menindee Lakes up to a 640 gigalitres threshold, meaning any change to that threshold or other components of the agreement require New South Wales consent.
“This highlights that the agreement Mr Rudd reached with Basin State Premiers nearly two years ago was little more than an agreement to develop a national Basin Plan, and was certainly not the clear authority to implement national management in the national interest.
“We saw the effect of this only recently, with the release of floodwaters from Menindee Lakes to downstream communities entirely reliant on the goodwill of the New South Wales Government.
“The Prime Minister and Basin State Premiers need to go back to the drawing board and negotiate genuine national management of the Murray Darling Basin.
“A Coalition Government would seek to negotiate this with the States, but will call a referendum to refer powers necessary for effective national management of the Basin, should the states remain unwilling to do so by mid-2012.”