Pitt defends MinCo cancellation

Questions asked: VFF Water Council chair Andrew Leahy has asked Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt to reconsider his decision to cancel the MinCo meeting.

Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt says there are no matters for ministerial decision, so there will be no state water ministers meeting on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

He was responding to protests after the November Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting was cancelled.

The Victorian Government and the VFF have both protested the cancellation of the meeting, and State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has also criticised the decision.

Mr Pitt has told Country News the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meetings are scheduled when there are matters for ministerial decision, in line with the Conran Review of COAG committees.

“I expect that to be early in the new year.”

He has repeated assurances that there would be no more water buybacks to meet water savings commitments.

VFF Water Council president Andrew Leahy said they wanted the minister to reconsider.

He said the failure to hold the meeting was a missed opportunity to reach an agreement on basin plan issues before the forthcoming federal election and elections in Victoria and South Australia.

“This meeting was the only real opportunity to agree to common-sense outcomes for the basin plan in the next 12 months,” Mr Leahy said.

“Three elections will be held next year which means the chances of the ministerial council tackling the unresolved issues of the basin plan over the next 12 months are nil.

“This is a huge missed opportunity. Politicians seem to think the easiest solution is just to kick the can down the road and not deal with any of the basin plan’s problems.”

Mr Leahy said the recent admission by NSW that the Menindee Lakes and Yanco Creek offset projects would be reworked, resulting in a significant shortfall of water, should have been a key point of discussion for MinCo.

“Legally the Commonwealth is required to meet this shortfall. The VFF is concerned this would result in further water buybacks, particularly if a change of government was to occur.”

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has criticised the Federal Government for cancelling the scheduled meeting.

“There has only been one MinCo meeting in the past year, yet we are at the pointy end of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan with major water recovery issues yet to be resolved before the stocktake in 2024,” Ms Sheed said.

“Our major concern in the Goulburn Valley is that the southern basin will not have met its water recovery target by 2024, and we do not want any further water take from our districts if this issue is not resolved when a full assessment of water recovery is undertaken in 2024.

“We are the most obvious target for buybacks because of our abundance of secure high-reliability water.

“Time is running out for the basin plan, but we still have an opportunity to act now before we reach a crisis point and we are held to ransom to part with our water at the 11th hour by way of buybacks.

“We need to talk through the introduction of a more flexible rollout of the projects, giving the plan a better chance of ultimate success,” she said.

“There are projects being reworked at the moment between the Federal Government and the NSW Government in relation to Menindee and we need to know what this means for Victoria.

“The Coalition’s neglect of the southern basin is in stark contrast to the attention paid to the northern basin. Irrigators in the northern basin seem to be operating outside of the rules of any agreement and benefiting handsomely in the process.”

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville expressed her disappointment that the scheduled meeting was abandoned.

“The basin ministers have only met once in the past year, and I have previously asked the Commonwealth to hold the meeting as scheduled this week or as soon as possible,” Ms Neville said.