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Joint Media Release
Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp
Australian Government Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
The Hon Warren Truss MP
Australian Government Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
Senator The Hon Ian Macdonald
14 November 2003
An historic first step towards restoring the iconic Murray River to environmental health has been taken today, with the announcement of a program to restore flows and upgrade local environments along the river.
In a joint agreement by the Australian Government and the states, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council today decided on the environmental objectives for the first stage of its program to address the declining health of the River Murray system.
The first step will focus on achieving significant environmental benefits for six key ecological assets:
Meeting the environmental objectives will require an average of up to 500 gigalitres of carefully managed environmental water each year - an amount equal to the volume of water in Sydney Harbour.
The proposal will be discussed with local communities through a process that will:
After the consultation process has been completed and details of the funding package are agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), a final recommendation will be put to the Ministerial Council meeting following completion of the consultation process around mid-2004.
In August 2003 COAG agreed to make $500 million available to address the Living Murray initiative and the over-allocation of water in the Murray-Darling Basin.
COAG is also expected to agree on a regime to provide secure water access entitlements for irrigators and the institutional arrangements for water trading, as part of the National Water Initiative (NWI). The implementation of the NWI is a pre-requisite for implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council's program.
The water for the environmental flows required under this first stage is expected to come from a combination of engineering works, better management of river flows, on-farm water efficiency savings and some purchase of water from willing sellers.
Water will not be obtained by compulsory acquisition. It is intended that water be obtained on a 'no regrets' basis - that is, there will be no adverse social or economic impacts on river communities.
The first stage program will be complemented by the realignment of the seven-year $150 million works program to which the Council committed in April 2002.
This program is additional to the $500 million COAG funding. The realignment will enable engineering and other works to be undertaken to ensure the best outcomes for the five key ecological assets.
There will be a full integration of environmental flows, structural works, operating rules and whole of river environmental management.
The Council will continue work on further actions required to restore the River Murray to healthy working condition.
A program of longer-term actions to build on this first stage will be considered by the Council in October 2004.
This will take into account the release of the final report the Scientific Reference Panel, expected in mid-2004, detailed social and economic analysis and experience with and community views derived from the first stage process.
Map Showing the Location of the Six Significant Ecological Assets for the Living Murray