Tanya Plibersek has reminded Victoria she doesn’t need the state’s permission to proceed with water buybacks after it opted out of an agreement on the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
The reintroduction of water buybacks is part of the deal struck between the Commonwealth, NSW, SA, Queensland and ACT, which the federal government says will ensure water from the river network goes back to protecting the environment.
Ms Plibersek announced this week that the agreement provides an extension of deadlines to recover water in the original 2021 plan, and more time and flexibility to deliver on water efficiency infrastructure.
But it also includes lifting the cap on water buybacks, enabling the commonwealth to purchase water entitlements from irrigators.
Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will be able to buy back irrigation licences to contribute towards the targeted return of 450GL of water by a new deadline of December 2027, and extend the time to complete water saving projects to December 2026.
Victoria has always opposed buybacks and says it won’t be joining the party.
“Victoria has a longstanding opposition to buybacks and nothing we have seen in this deal has changed that position,” Water Minister Harriet Shing said in a statement.
Buybacks ‘part of the solution’
But Ms Plibersek said as far as the Commonwealth was concerned water buybacks were part of the solution.
“I’ve been very clear all the way along that voluntary water purchase will have to be a part of achieving the objectives under the plan,” she told the ABC.
“Of course we will look at water saving projects, water efficiency projects, easing constraints on the flow of the river, looking at rules changes, but voluntary water purchase inevitably will be part of the solution in coming years.
Voluntary water purchase inevitably will be part of the solution in coming years … I don’t need the Victorian government’s permission to do that.Tanya Plibersek
“I don’t’ need the Victorian government’s permission to do that. That is something that we need tochange at the Commonwealth level.
“There’s currenly a cap on the amount of water that that can be bought through voluntary water purchase, we’ve got to remove that cap in the Commonwealth parliament, and the Victorian government doesn’t have to agree to that water purchase in their jurisdiction.”
While Victoria’s position means it will miss out on the benefits of the new plan, Ms Plibersek stressed her door remained open should the state have a change of heart.
She didn’t say how much water the government hoped to recover via buybacks.
“That’s still to be determined. We need to properly assess how much we an recover through water effiiciency projects that are underway and new ones as well,” she said.
“What I would say is that … we will be in the market to buy water, we’ll try and spread that out over a period of time, we don’t want to buy too much water too quickly.”
The minister said the tender that opened earlier this year to buy around 44GL of water was going well, and indicated that there were willing sellers.
NSW not keen on buybacks but accepts sustainability pathway
The NSW government says it doesn’t support buybacks either but accepts the federal government’s plan as the best pathway to sharing precious water resources.
“Our position on this has not changed. We want to see the Australian Government prioritise investment in recovering water through other ways,” water minister Rose Jackson said.
She said the agreement allowed more time and flexibility for the delivery of water infrastructure projects, which would minimise the risk of further buybacks.
“This was a major motivating factor in agreeing to continue work under the Plan,” she said.
“The extension will provide NSW with more time, more resources and a better chance of delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full for the community.”
Legislation to implement the agreement will be introduced into parliament in coming weeks.
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