National Farmers' Federation

Farmers propose way forward on national water plan

TODAY the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) reaffirmed its support for the ‘intent’ of the Australian Government’s National Plan for Water Security (NPWS), on the basis that it accelerates the implementation of the National Water Initiative (NWI).
The NFF has sought, and received, assurances from the Government on vital issues of importance to irrigators, including a commitment that existing water sharing plans will be respected.
The issue of ‘referral of powers’ from the States to the Commonwealth under a NPWS has been as sensitive as it is important. In considering the interests of farmers across all State borders, the NFF has developed a way forward, and is seeking agreement from the Australian Government accordingly.
“The NFF provides ‘in-principle’ support for the NPWS. This support is conditional on the Commonwealth assuming specific, rather than broad, water resource management powers,” NFF President David Crombie said.
“The NFF believes that only the powers required to enable an effective whole of Basin water management approach need be referred.
“The Commonwealth and the States have already agreed to the NWI and the current Murray-Darling Basin Agreement (MDBA). These agreements clearly establish the management principles for the Murray-Darling Basin and are supported by the NFF.
“Governments must ensure that these principles are implemented effectively and efficiently within agreed timeframes to ensure whole-of-Basin outcomes.
“The NFF supports the Commonwealth’s agreement to respect current State water sharing plans and the arrangements enshrined in the MDBA. The NFF believes that State and regional organisations must continue to be responsible for regional management of water resources, operational issues and all future reviews of water sharing plans.
“The NFF supports the development of a Basin Strategic Plan. This must be a statutory plan that includes processes for the development, implementation and review of the Plan.
“The Plan must reflect arrangements within existing individual water sharing plans and set standards for achieving NWI objectives. The Plan must be informed by data and science from a variety of sources and include a formal process for engagement with Basin communities and industry.
“The NPWS must ensure that the reliability of individual entitlement holders’ allocations, as provided for in current plans, will not be affected.
“When existing water sharing plans are rolled-over, any changes to these plans must be consistent with the Basin Strategic Plan.
“The NFF recommends that the Commonwealth only seeks the referral of specific powers in relation to:
* The enforcement of NWI and MDB Agreement commitments;
* The development of a statutory Basin Strategic Plan by the MDB Authority and approved by the Commonwealth Minister and implemented through State and regional processes;
* The accreditation of catchment-based water sharing plans;
* The coordination and/or management of all environmental water to achieve Basin-wide environmental outcomes; and
* The establishment of an expert MDB Authority reporting to the Commonwealth Minister to replace the MDB Commission.
“The NFF encourages the Commonwealth and the States to continue negotiations until the draft legislation and associated Intergovernmental Agreements reflect the principles outlined above.
“The NFF support for the NPWS is conditional on the provision of more detail on the NPWS and engagement with the NFF on the substance of the draft legislation.”
The NFF will meet with Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, later today to seek the Australian Government’s agreement on the issue of ‘referral of powers’.
The NFF also seeks clarification on several issues relating to the Murray-Darling Basin Contingency Planning announcement of three weeks ago, such as clarity over the treatment of stock water and possible assistance measures for irrigators under the worst case scenario.

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