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Green groups see red over Labor's Murray deal

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Federal Labor is accused of selling out South Australia after the Opposition reached a deal with the Turnbull government to ensure the Murray-Darling Basin Plan remains intact.

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“What this deal between Labor and Liberal means is there will be less water for the bottom end of the river and less water for the environment,” Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the ABC today.

The Greens failed to win support from Labor for a disallowance motion due to be debated in the Senate.

Hanson-Young said the agreement did nothing to secure more water for the river, instead providing more for use by corporate irrigators.

“We need more flows, not less, and what this deal between Labor and Liberal means is there will be less water for the bottom end of the river and less water for the environment,” she said.

The Greens were backed by environment groups who slammed the deal.

“This is a disastrous decision and one that condemns Australia’s iconic Murray Darling Basin to a very bleak future,” said Peter Owen from The Wilderness Society South Australia.

“Once again our political process has failed. Greed and self interest will now drive the internationally significant Lower Murray Lakes and Coorong to the brink. It would appear this will ultimately have to be decided in the High Court.”

Conservation SA chief executive Craig Wilkins said the deal meant South Australia would now receive far less water than the minimum scientists believe the river system needs to survive.

“That’s a disaster for our state and those communities that rely on a healthy river – including all the residents of Adelaide,” he said.

“The commitments that Labor say they have secured in order not to support the disallowance motion in the Senate are totally inadequate. It’s more of the same vague promises that we’ve heard many times before.

“South Australia’s faith in the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been deeply rocked over the last nine months in the wake of mounting evidence of water theft, collusion and dodgy water accounting. It is bizarre that even more water that is meant to keep the river alive is likely now to be stripped away before that mess has been sorted out.”

However, the Murray Darling Association – which represents councils along the river – welcomed a “return to bipartisanship” on the basin plan.

“Our communities, our industries, and our agencies managing the implementation processes and the delivery of environmental water all need certainty,” said association president David Thurley. “We need certainty of the plan and we need confidence in the process.”

Independent senator David Leyonhjelm says Hanson-Young has “no idea” about what more water would do for the basin.

“You do not just add water and say ‘that’s how you benefit the environment’,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Labor and the Government say the deal ensures sufficient amounts of water are returned to the Murray-Darling river system for environmental flows.

Labor will also support changes it blocked in February to reduce the amount of water being returned to the environment in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

Water Minister David Littleproud said the compliance measures would target irrigators doing the wrong thing through measures like improved metering.

“If you’re doing the right thing, there’s nothing to fear,” Littleproud said.

“But if you aren’t, you’re going to get caught and we’re going to make you swing.”

The disallowance motion would have blocked a change to the plan allowing 605 gigalitres of water to be replaced with 37 projects instead of being recovered from farmers’ entitlements and returned to the environment.

Under the bipartisan deal, the coalition guaranteed its commitment to 450GL of environmental water for the basin, with no negative social or economic impacts.

There will also be increased consultation with indigenous people and $20 million for communities impacted by the basin plan.

“This gives certainty to the two million Australians up and down the basin,” Littleproud said.

The minister has contacted his NSW counterpart Niall Blair, who threatened to walk away from the plan earlier in the year.

“I’ve had detailed discussions with Niall Blair who has been constructive all the way through,” Littleproud said.

Labor’s water spokesman Tony Burke said new transparency, auditing and compliance requirements would address his party’s concerns with changes to the plan.

“This puts the Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on a solid footing to provide a pathway for the rivers to return to health,” he said.

Allegations of water theft in northern parts of the basin have led to concerns over compliance.

“If we’re going to have integrity in the Murray-Darling Basin, there needs to be strong compliance,” Littleproud said.

– with AAP

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