New water minister commits to extra 450 gigalitres for Murray-Darling

The AgeNews26/01/2012photo Justin McManus.On the MurrayJunction of the Murray and Darling Rivers at Wentworth.Darling river bottom right(Tuckers Creek joins the Darling just before the junction) with the Murray River coming in from the bottom left of the picture. FILE PHOTO: Nationals MP David Littleproud has a beer with Nationals candidate for New England, Barnaby Joyce, at the Aero Club in Tamworth, the evening before the New England by-election, on Friday 1 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

‘s new Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, says he’s committed to a controversial addition of 450 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling, casting aside doubts about the plan strewn by his predecessor Barnaby Joyce.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, the first-term MP and now cabinet minister said he was confident the extra environmental flows could be achieved without economic damage to irrigators their and communities.

“We’ve made the decision to support the plan and that’s part of the plan,” Mr Littleproud said. “I don’t think anyone should say we’re going to blow up the building. We’ve got a plan, let’s work collaboratively to achieve that.”

The extended target would take to 3200 gigalitres the total amount of water returned from irrigated agriculture to the river system under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

But it is subject to a fierce battle between the basin states, with South adamant the extra water must be delivered, but the eastern states concerned about the effect on upstream communities.

A report by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority has already recommended the amount of water recovered from northern NSW and southern Queensland be reduced, because previous buybacks have smashed local economies and increased unemployment. That recommendation is now before the Senate.

Last year, Mr Joyce stunned South with a letter to the state’s water minister, Ian Hunter, in which he reneged on the Basin Plan and said he doubted the 450 gigalitres could be achieved without causing social and economic harm. The situation had reached an “unsolvable stalemate”, Mr Joyce said.

But Mr Littleproud, who has previously shared his predecessor’s scepticism, said he believed there were ways to “get the outcomes that everyone is looking for”.

“I’ve had buybacks in my electorate quite recently [and] social and economic impacts have basically been nullified,” he said. “I think there are ways through that.”

However, goodwill has not been forthcoming from all quarters. South n Labor premier Jay Weatherill welcomed Mr Littleproud to the job by dubbing his appointment “a big one-finger salute to South ” and accusing the Maraona MP of being in bed with the cotton growers in his vast Queensland electorate, which includes the mammoth Cubbie Station.

Mr Littleproud said he was unfazed by those “puerile comments” but indicated he was ready for a fight if necessary. “I’m prepared to swing if I don’t believe someone has done the right thing,” he told Fairfax Media.

State water ministers met on Tuesday while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was announcing his cabinet reshuffle, meaning there was no federal representation. NSW and Victoria again refused to commit to delivering the additional 450 gigalitres, with their respective water ministers accusing SA of “ransom” and “blackmail”.

Mr Hunter returned fire by suggesting NSW and Victoria had formed a “cabal” and were abandoning the agreement having taken what they wanted.

In Canberra on Thursday, thumbing through a stack of briefings on the dispute, Mr Littleproud called for calm.

“There’s always going to be some argy-bargy between the states, but the states need to recognise this is a national plan,” he said. “We all just need to take a deep breath.”

Federal Labor is insistent the 450 gigalitres must be delivered. “Trying to deliver half a plan means delivering no plan at all,” its water spokesman Tony Burke said this week.