Proposed changes to the Water Act would shift the burden of paying for important environmental works like fish ladders and carp exclusion devices onto the underfunded Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

The amendments were introduced to Parliament today by Agriculture & Water Minister Barnaby Joyce.

“The government seems determined to erode funding to the environment, while it continues to pump subsidies worth $2.5 million a day into irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin,” said ACF’s acting campaigns director Jonathan La Nauze.

“There is clearly no shortage of money, just a bias towards subsidising private industries instead of investing public money in the health of rivers that benefit everyone.

“Conservation groups did not argue for these amendments; the irrigation lobby did. 

“The amendments would shift the burden of paying for environmental works, such as fish ladders, onto the already underfunded Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder – an important office established in 2007 when Malcolm Turnbull was Environment Minister.

“The proposed changes create an incentive for government agencies to defund existing programs and make the Environmental Water Holder responsible for funding unlimited ‘environmental activities’.  There is nothing in the legislation to prevent cost-shifting.

“If the government was serious about environmental health it would restore funding to the Native Fish Strategy and other important programs, not expect the environment to auction off its only asset, water, in order to pay for basic infrastructure.

“ACF acknowledges the improvements to Indigenous engagement envisaged by the proposed amendments to the Act,” Mr La Nauze said.

“ACF calls on Minister Joyce to explain how the proposed changes will not result in a net loss of environmental water and to reveal where ongoing funding for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the revived Sustainable Rivers Audit will come from.”

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