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Update on the M-D Basin Plan:

Currently before the Commonwealth parliament are amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that will weaken recovery action for our rivers, native wildlife and wetlands. The amendments need to be rejected until environmental benefits can be guaranteed and the survival of the Murray-Darling assured.

Whilst the initial work undertaken by the Murray Darling Basin Authority recognised that the return of up to 7,600 GL of water was needed to prevent further deterioration of river health, the Commonwealth Government allocated only 3,200 GL in the final Plan adopted in 2012.

The 2012 Plan allowed for future amendments to the water allocations via a review of the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) set for the Northern Basin and an adjustment mechanism for the Southern Basin SDL.

The proposed amendments to the Northern and Southern Basin Plan that are currently before the parliament are not good news for the future environmental health of the Murray Darling Basin. For the Northern basin environmental water is proposed to be decreased by 70 GL, including 18 GL of environmental water vital to the significant Macquarie and Gwydir wetlands. For the Southern Basin irrigators are the winners with 605 GL proposed to be returned to this industry.

Whilst government has claimed 450 GL of environmental water has been found via water efficiency measures none of these have been identified or costed. Further, a recent declaration by economists and scientists has identified deep flaws in the science underpinning current water policy and has called on government to make immediate changes to ensure more water actually flows throughout the system. Without this environmental water, the redgums will continue to die and wetland ecosystems, starved of water, will further degrade.

The Inland Rivers Network is a coalition of environment groups and individuals that has been advocating for healthy rivers, wetlands and groundwater in the Murray-Darling Basin since 1991. To stay up to date with the fast moving politics of the Murray Darling Basin, sign on to the blog site at https://inlandriversnetwork.org/about/

Environment funding cuts:

Environment NGOs are under pressure on many fronts, not helped by confirmation that funding for government’s environment and biodiversity programs has been slashed. This isn’t new, there have been notable cuts under previous governments – but as The Guardian revealed the cuts have been particularly pronounced under this federal Coalition.

Analysis by the ACF found spending on environment department programs and staff suffered a 33% cut (from $1.4bn in 2013-14 to $945m in the last budget). Forward projections included in the budget papers promise future deeper cuts. Much needed biodiversity conservation as well as monitoring and auditing programs have suffered. The Turnbull government has de- prioritised the environment by serious resource cuts and a lack of ambition in implementing policy and legislation.

Any discussion of the state of environmental protection and natural resource management brings us to consideration of the national environmental laws introduced by the Howard government. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was divisive when it came into effect in 2000.

Promised as a framework to protect biodiversity, natural ecosystems and places of national environmental significance, it was welcomed by some for gathering decision-making powers previously spread across different ministerial portfolios under the Environment minister. Others objected to the near total level of discretion it gives whoever is Environment minister at any given time in deciding how to apply the law. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the Act is under-utilised and most agree it also needs strengthening.

“In addition to conservation issues, the Society staffs a visitor centre on weekends at the Field of Mars Wildlife Refuge. All welcome.”