More than a year after the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed into law, Queensland and New South Wales have finally agreed on how to implement the water plan.
Queensland signed the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for implementing the Basin Plan on Wednesday night. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell joined Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Canberra to also formally sign up on Thursday morning.
The IGA sets out the plan for implementing the buyback program and water-saving infrastructure projects agreed to in the Basin Plan, which aims to restore the Murray-Darling to health while maintaining agricultural production.
While Victoria, South Australia and the ACT signed up relatively quickly, NSW has been the most vocal holdout.
In signing the IGA, the NSW government has relented on its previous demand that the Commonwealth agree to a three per cent cap on irrigation entitlements buybacks, per valley, per decade.
The Federal Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Simon Birmingham, says NSW has now agreed that the Commonwealth’s commitment to cap buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres Basin-wide, is sufficient.
“The commitment that we’re making is a very real commitment to give serious priority to infrastructure [over buybacks], and I think a big part of the change is that they trust us to deliver on our word. The previous government promised a lot of infrastructure but then spent a lot more on buybacks,” Senator Birmingham said.
“We are very determined that we will deliver the infrastructure projects.”
NSW will also get an additional $4 million cut of the Commonwealth’s $100 million Regional Economic Diversification fund, bringing its total share to $32.5 million.
South Australian Senator Birmingham says that increase is small in the context of the $13 billion Basin Plan water recovery program, and says other states won’t suffer.
“Other states still get a pretty good cut of that; $25 million each to Victoria and South Australia, and $15 million to Queensland.
“So it’s a good news story for NSW, but certainly this hasn’t been a squabble about money as much as it’s been about a commitment of how the water will be recovered in a way that preserves the economic future of Basin communities,” Senator Birmingham said.
The Federal Government is yet to legislate to cap Basin-wide buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres.
Senator Birmingham says there’s a busy legislative agenda before the parliament, but the Government will move to put the cap in place this year.