Historic deal struck to guarantee a future for the Murray-Darling Basin

The Albanese Labor Government has today struck an historic agreement to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, including 450 gigalitres of water for the environment.

The agreement, made between the Federal, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory governments, will put this vital river system on a healthy and sustainable path for our kids and grandkids.

This agreement comes at a critical time for the Basin, with the next drought just around the corner.

Basin communities were let down by the previous government. Instead of delivering on their promises on the river system, the Coalition instead waged a decade long guerrilla war against the plan. They blocked water recovery, they tied up programs in impossible rules, and they consistently ignored advice from experts. Because of this, the Government recently received formal advice that the Plan couldn’t be delivered by the June 2024 deadline.

Unlike the Liberals and Nationals, Labor has always been committed to the Plan. Labor wrote it and Labor governments have delivered it. More than 80 per cent of the water recovered under the Plan so far has been under federal Labor Governments.

And now, it is a Federal Labor Government that has negotiated a way to ensure there is secure and reliable water for communities, agriculture, industry, First Nations and the environment.

The new agreement sets out some important changes to make sure the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is delivered in full: 

  • More time to deliver the remaining water, based on expert advice. This includes the recovery of the 450GL of water for the environment by 31 December 2027, and the delivery of water infrastructure projects by 31 December 2026.
  • More options to deliver the remaining water, including water efficiency infrastructure projects and voluntary water purchases.
  • More funding to deliver the remaining water, and to support communities where voluntary water purchasing has flow-on impacts.
  • More accountability for all Murray-Darling Basin governments including the Federal government to deliver on their obligations.

While Victoria is the only Basin government not currently part of this agreement, the door remains open. We would warmly welcome their participation. There are significant benefits to signing on.

The legislation necessary to implement this agreement, amendments to the Water Act 2007 and the Basin Plan 2012, will be introduced into the Parliament by the Federal Government in the coming weeks.

The full text of the agreement is available here: https://www.dcceew.gov.au/water/policy/mdb/basin-plan/agreement2023.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the Environment and Water, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP:

“This is an important moment for Basin communities and for any Australian who cares about the health of our environment.

“Our government made a commitment to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full and that’s exactly what we are doing.  

“Australia is facing an environmental emergency. The Murray-Darling pumps life into the heartland of our country. If we don’t act now to preserve it, our Basin towns will be unprepared for drought, our native animals will face the threat of extinction, our river ecosystems will risk environmental collapse, and our food and fibre production will be insecure and unsustainable.

“A healthy Basin also means healthy communities. It means a river that families can enjoy, that promotes recreation and tourism, and most importantly that provides clean drinking water to 3 million Australians every day.

“Reaching this agreement has not been easy. It took co-operation from Basin Ministers, with a shared understanding of the urgency we all face. We don’t want Australians to wake up one day with a dead river system and find out their governments could’ve stopped it.”