The Federal Government’s proposed cap on water buybacks for the Murray-Darling will cement billions of dollars of irrigation subsidies, but reduce the certainty of a healthy river system, the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

The Government today introduced legislation to cap buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres.

“To achieve a healthy Murray-Darling, the Basin Plan must return at least 3,200 gigalitres of water to the environment, but the Government’s plan to source more than half this amount through a generous irrigation subsidy program is expensive, unnecessary and we’re not sure it will work,” said ACF’s Healthy Ecosystems Campaigner Dr Arlene Harriss-Buchan.

“Ultimately the effect of this legislation will be to lock in billions of dollars of irrigation subsidies, but it won’t increase the certainty of achieving a healthy river system.

“After seven years only 600 gigalitres has been recovered through subsidising irrigation infrastructure to make it more efficient, yet the government is now asking the public to believe it can achieve almost three times more than that without blowing the budget.

“The Government has listened to our concerns and has accommodated many of them in this draft legislation, but we are still worried that if the subsidy program doesn’t recover enough water, there’s no plan B for the river.

“People should remember that the South Australian Government shelved a high court challenge on the basis that the full 3,200 gigalitres would be recovered. Without this volume of water back in the Murray, environmental jewels like the Coorong will be in trouble.

“Buying back water from willing sellers has proved to be the most effective way to return water to the environment.

“We urge politicians of all political persuasions to satisfy themselves that the full 3,200 gigalitres will be recovered for the Murray-Darling – which is the nation’s lifeblood, sustaining and supporting millions of Australians – before supporting legislation that will cap buybacks,” Dr Harriss-Buchan said.

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