Push to hit NSW with sanctions over water
The Federal Government should start buying back water licences in NSW and cease all Basin Plan payments to the state, the Centre Alliance says.
Senator Rex Patrick has called for NSW to be sanctioned until it commits to the Murray-Darling Basin plan in full.
It followed Water Minster Melinda Pavey on Tuesday announcing her state had "no more water to give" towards the 450GL of environmental flows to be returned to the system, which is key to the basin's health.
Centre Alliance has a bill before the Senate which would change the Constitution so the Federal Parliament had direct powers over water resources.
State Water Minister David Speirs has been heavily criticised for last year agreeing to a deal struck with other basin states, which said water would not be recovered unless there were no negative social, economic or environmental outcomes.
The Opposition has criticised Mr Speirs for allowing a "dodgy deal" to provide a "get out clause for NSW".
Mr Patrick said Mr Speirs was "a rookie" minster at the time and should not have agreed to the deal, but the dominant cause of NSW sidelining its obligations was that state's "water mismanagement exacerbated by drought".
Mr Speirs said the claim that the socio-economic test had caused NSW to sideline its obligations showed "a fundamental lack of understanding on how the Basin Plan works."
"You can't pick and choose which parts of the plan you want to deliver and if NSW doesn't begin efficiency projects the Federal Government will have no choice but to enforce buybacks," he said.
Central Irrigation Trust chief executive Gavin McMahon said the philosophy of communities not being left worse off under water recovery projects was written into legislation years ago. He said his Barmera-based organisation had seen the devastation buy backs caused.
"(For example), the lifeblood of our community is water and if you take the water away there really isn't much that keeps our community ticking over," he said.
Ms Pavey said her state was suffering its worst drought on record and the Murray-Darling Basin plan should be adaptable. "Our communities have made it clear they will not bullied by threats of buybacks," she said.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said: "Despite the claims by SA, the Murray Darling Basin does not provide for buy backs to deliver the 450 GL."
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the wider agreement to return 32,000GL to the river was now "effectively dead" after Mr Speirs "got rolled" at Tuesday's Ministerial Council meeting.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud was unavailable for comment yesterday but has previously said "no-one wants to go near buy backs".