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Plibersek calls for 'greater effort' from basin states to implement Murray-Darling Basin Plan

8 July 2022

Sunset over a bend in the majestic Murray River at Murtho, with red tall cliffs
The basin plan's deadline is looming as the Labor government takes control of its implementation. (ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer) 

Water and Environment minister Tanya Plibersek says it's "inexplicable" New South Wales has so far only delivered six of the 20 water plans required under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Key points:

  • Federal minister Tanya Plibersek says extra effort is needed to implement the basin plan
  • She says delivering 450GL of environmental water within the plan's deadline will be difficult 
  • NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson says water-saving measures must pass socio-economic tests

Ms Plibersek was in the Riverland on Thursday as part of a tour of the lower basin, the first since Labor won government at May's federal election. 

Labor went into that election promising it would deliver the basin plan in full, including delivering 450 gigalitres of environmental water for South Australia. 

Speaking to ABC Riverland, Ms Plibersek said NSW had been allowed to drift away from the basin plan by the former Coalition government.

"We've got 20 plans we're expecting from New South Wales and so far only six of them have been submitted. They're three years late," she said. 

A woman with short hair wearing a grey jumper standing in front of trees.
Environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek in Loxton as part of a tour of the lower basin. (ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook )

Environmental water goal 'difficult'

The delivery of environmental water to South Australia has been a point of contention for the plan, with upstream states saying it should not come at the expense of their river communities. 

Last year, the Nationals attempted to rewrite the basin plan in the Senate to alter the requirement to deliver the 450GL, which was defeated by the Liberals and Labor. 

Ms Plibersek said only 2 per cent of the required water had been recovered so far, meaning it would be a "tough job" to have it all delivered by the plan's deadline of June 2024. 

Murray River above Renmark in South Australia
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan outlines 450GL of environmental water for the South Australian stretch of the system.(Flickr: Michael Storer)

"It's very difficult to see how we can do all the rest of the work that's required in the short amount of time that's available to us," she said.

NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson said the state would only consider measures to recover environmental water for SA if they passed tests endorsed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) ministerial council. 

A man standing in front of a shopfront in a shopping plaza.
Kevin Anderson says NSW developed the "most rigorous" water resource plans of the five basin states.(ABC New England North West: Patrick Bell)

He added the state had developed the "most rigorous" water resource plans of the five basin states. 

"The NSW government has resubmitted six plans which address all of the feedback previously provided by the MDBA and we look forward to them being accredited," he said. 

"Once these six plans have been accredited, NSW will be in a position to update and resubmit the remaining plans as a matter of priority."