Joint media release: Strengthening the Restoring Our Rivers Bill

The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Spokesperson for the Environment and Water

The Albanese Government and Australian Greens have agreed to strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers Bill.

After a decade of neglect and sabotage by the Liberals and Nationals, the Basin Plan is completely off-track. The previous government let communities down, let industry down, and have failed to protect the environment.

It’s critical that legislation to rescue the Basin Plan passes this year. With another drought around the corner, we must get vital water back into the rivers and onto the floodplains.

We’re pleased Labor and the Greens have worked together to identify ways to strengthen the legislation before the Parliament to get the Plan back on track. 

These include:

More accountability

  • Ensuring the Government recovers the 450GL of additional environmental water by 31 December 2027
  • Giving the Commonwealth Government the power to withdraw State Government infrastructure projects that are deemed unviable, to ensure we they are focused on delivering projects that stack up and will meet the targets of the Plan.
  • Tasking the Inspector-General of Water Compliance to undertake an independent audit to the water allocate to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.  
  • Increasing accountability measures by publishing public information about the status of projects and delivery of the 450GL of water for the environment

More emphasis on First Nations connection

  • A long overdue amendment to ensure the Plan acknowledges and adequately outlines First Nations people’s connection, history and water needs.
  • Boosting funding for the Aboriginal Water Entitlement Program (AWEP) to $100 million.
  • Mandatory reporting to demonstrate how environmental water holders have considered First Nations values and uses, and involved First Nations in environmental watering decisions.

Northern Basin

  • Ensuring the flexibility to allow additional water recovery in the Northern Basin.
  • Any water recovered from the Northern Basin will deliver environmental outcomes that improve resilience of the Darling-Baaka to protect precious habitat and help avoid risk of devastating events like mass fish deaths.  

As the report of the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee into the Bill identified, there are a number of outstanding issues that will need to be addressed in the Plan’s next phase including First Nations connections, delivery of water resource plans, and climate change.

The legislation is set for debate in the Senate this week. This is an important step in ensuring its passage, and delivering a healthy Basin for the future.

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

“I have made clear from the start that I am determined to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This is a critical time for our environment – I don’t want communities to wake up one day with a dry river and know their governments could have done more.

“That’s why I have been clear I’m willing to work with all parties who are interested in getting the best outcome for the Basin. We know better decisions are made when the Government works collaboratively with others. I welcome the constructive engagement by Senator Hanson-Young on this matter.

“We’re talking about the largest inland river system in Australia, supporting threatened plants and animals and delivering drinking water for 3 million Australians. We have to get this right.

“Not delivering this is simply not an option. We want to make sure we have a healthy and sustainable river system for the communities, industry, First Nations groups and environment that rely on it.”

Quotes attributable to Senator Hanson-Young, Greens Spokesperson for the Environment and Water:

“Today, the Greens have secured a critical lifeline for the Murray-Darling Basin. This is a significant win for the environment and river communities to stop our rivers running dry.

“The Greens have secured a guarantee in law that the environment will finally receive the 450GL of water needed to protect our precious river system. This breakthrough agreement will deliver more water for the river across the entire basin, north and south. This is a landmark win for South Australia after more than a decade fighting for the water needed to protect the Coorong, Lower Lakes and to keep the Murray Mouth open.

“As part of this agreement, the Greens have secured an independent audit of water in the basin to stop the rorts, inject integrity and restore trust after a decade of mismanagement from vested interests.

“The Greens have secured $100m for First Nations water and the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program to protect Country and culture from greed and over-extraction. For the first time, the laws governing the Murray-Darling Basin will recognise the unique connection First Nations people have with the river system.

“This breakthrough agreement will help protect the river from over-extraction, mass fish kills and environmental degradation as El Niño, drought and climate change threaten. I want to thank Minister Plibersek for working constructively in the national interest to protect Australia’s largest river system.”