Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Gillard Government delivers historic water reform

Media release
22 November 2012

After more than 100 years of disagreement, the Gillard Government will today present a final Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Water Minister, Tony Burke, said the Government had committed to delivering a Plan that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and sustainable food production.

"I have today signed the final Murray Darling Basin Plan into law," Mr Burke said.

"The Government has accepted the Authority's recommendation of a Basin Plan that returns 2750GL of surface water to the environment. It sets up a mechanism which allows governments to improve environmental, social or economic outcomes provided that improving one doesn't sacrifice others.

"Importantly the Government has also committed to provide an additional $1.77 billion to relax key operating constraints and recover an additional 450GL of environmental water to look to achieve the environmental outcomes described in the 3200GL modelling and do so through projects to ensure there is no social and economic downside for communities.

"For decades the Murray Darling Basin was treated as though it ended at state borders.

"It doesn't and consistent over-allocation and mismanagement seriously degraded the health of the system.

"By the time the last drought hit, the Basin's ecosystems had essentially been living in drought conditions and had no resilience to cope.

"Only a national plan was going to address the many problems fragmented administration brought. That's what this Government has delivered today in this Plan.

"We have done everything we can to minimise the impact on communities short of saying we will make a compromise on the health of the system because history has shown that if you negotiate too hard against a river, it negotiates back in a completely uncompromising way and that's in no-one's interest.

"The foundation and reason for the reform is unequivocally and unapologetically to restore the system to health. And wherever we could do that in ways that are sensitive to communities then that's the pathway we have chosen.

"My view has always been that the best way to get the politics right is to get the policy right."

Mr Burke said the plan will deliver vital additional water to the Basin including some 40,000 hectares of iconic vegetation such as the River Red Gums.

"The Plan will also flush an average of two million tonnes of salt from the Basin each year,'' he said.

"This is enough salt to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground and it's the volume required to ensure the system is healthy.

"Discharging salt through the Murray Mouth, which will now be open more than nine years out of 10, will significantly improve water quality and prevent land degradation.

"There will be more magnificent waterbirds and native fish, and people will be able to visit river tourist locations to experience the stunning natural ecosystems of the Basin."

Some of the ecological benefits the Plan will provide are:

  • increased waterbird breeding opportunities - in Macquarie Marshes it is estimated there will be a 33 per cent increase in the potential for large breeding events
  • Australia's two largest red-river gum forests will be protected through periodic flooding to ensure their survival, and
  • there will be a reduced incidence of high salinity periods in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth that can harm fish and vegetation.

Mr Burke said the Plan would also ensure strong regional communities and sustainable food production.

"I have been clear from the start that this Government intended to deliver reform that restores the rivers to health and ensured strong regional communities and a vibrant irrigation industry," Mr Burke said.

"That's why the Government committed to bridge the gap to the sustainable diversion limits set in the Basin Plan.

"This includes spending $5.2 billion on irrigation infrastructure which is contributing to increased irrigation productivity and providing valuable employment benefits during design and construction phases.

"The infrastructure investment also enables irrigation and related industries, such as food processing, to position themselves for a future of less water due to climate change and variability.

"There are many other aspects of Basin water reform that will benefit industry. Trading rules will reduce or remove water trade barriers making it easier for irrigators to realise the value of their water licences.

"Improvements in the Basin environment will benefit many businesses such as floodplain farming, tourism, boating and fishing and all the other activities that rely on our river system being in good health.

"Businesses closer to the Murray mouth will get relief from concerns about water quality and the condition of lower reaches of the river."

The final Plan is available at www.mdba.gov.au.