1 April, 2011
Ministers from across the Murray-Darling Basin met today to progress a collaborative and inclusive approach for governments and communities to develop and implement a plan for the Basin in which a healthy river system underpins strong and viable communities.
The objective is a healthy working Basin.
Ministers agreed there was a need for a new broader approach that brings together all relevant programs and involves local communities. This would go beyond the work being undertaken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, by ensuring all programs were brought together for the greatest benefit.
In particular, Ministers agreed the need to better align Commonwealth and State programs and policies aimed at improving water use efficiency and infrastructure programs, recovery of water for the environment and environmental water use and infrastructure. Ministers resolved that principles to be urgently explored should include:
- acknowledgement of previous efforts by Basin governments and communities to achieve water savings and improve water management
- measures to speed implementation of infrastructure and water efficiency programs, with an increased focus on outcomes
- examining all opportunities to strengthen the involvement of local communities in the design and rollout of State and Commonwealth programs, such as with water use efficiency projects, environmental works and measures and environmental watering actions. Ministers acknowledged that different approaches may be required in different parts of the Basin, and
- opportunities to build a more flexible and adaptive approach to the delivery of programs.
Ministers discussed progress since their December meeting with the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the Hon. Craig Knowles. Ministers welcomed assurances by the Chair that the Authority had listened, and would continue to listen, to the views of the community and was reviewing its approach to the proposed Basin Plan.
Ministers also welcomed the Chair's assurances that the Basin Plan would be developed in close consultation with state governments and key industry and community stakeholders. This would be done in accordance with the timetable agreed at the December 2010 Ministerial Council. This would:
- enable the work of the House of Representatives inquiry chaired by Mr Tony Windsor, MP, to be taken into account in the proposed Basin Plan
- facilitate appropriate consideration of socio-economic impacts, and greater engagement with states and communities, and
- ensure that the Basin Plan can be presented to the Commonwealth Parliament in early 2012.
State ministers welcomed the Australian Government's confirmation of its commitment that farmers' water rights would not be affected by the Basin Plan. It would ensure this by "bridging the gap" between current diversions and any final sustainable diversion limits in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through water savings generated by infrastructure investments and voluntary water purchase. Ministers noted that an annual average of over 700 gigalitres of water had already been recovered for the environment through these measures.
Ministers affirmed it would be necessary to obtain maximum water returns from infrastructure investments as part of realising the "bridging the gap" objective.
In expressing their support for a new, more balanced, inclusive and comprehensive approach to Basin-wide planning, Ministers agreed to meet regularly to drive effective implementation.
Ministers attending were the Hon Tony Burke MP (Commonwealth); the Hon Andrew Stoner MP (New South Wales); the Hon Peter Walsh MLA (Victoria); the Hon Paul Caica MP (South Australia); the Hon Kate Jones MP (Queensland) and Simon Corbell MLA (Australian Capital Territory).