Agriculture and Water Minister Barnaby Joyce introduced amendments to the Water Act in Parliament last week that could see the burden of funding environmental works shifted onto the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.
Previously, proceeds from selling environmental water that was not used in one region had to be used to buy environmental water in another region. As we know, environmental water allocations are precious and many Red Gum forests, floodplains and wetlands do not receive the volumes they require to stay healthy.
The amendments to the Water Act mean that income from selling environmental water can now be used for environmental works, such as infrastructure and fish ladders. This could effectively reduce the amount of water delivered to drying Red Gum floodplains in the future.
This is a clear strategic move by the Coalition Government to placate the irrigation lobby and shirk responsibility for funding important environmental infrastructure. These changes represent a slippery slope and FoE is concerned it will lead to defunding existing programs and cost-shifting to the Environmental Water Holder.
The proposed amendments will make some small improvements to Indigenous engagement. The Murray Lower Darling Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) say the changes are a small step toward water justice for Aboriginal people.
“While these changes are positive, they fall far short of addressing the underlying inequity of a water allocation system which is based on the dispossession of Aboriginal people.”
“What we need now is a genuine national conversation about recognizing the rights of Aboriginal people to access and own water entitlements on their traditional lands.” MLDRIN Chair Darren Perry said.
As the Water Act amendments are debated in Parliament next year, stay tuned for more updates and information on how you can help safeguard the future of Australia’s greatest river system.
Send the PM an email supporting environmental water here.