18 October 2023
Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has successfully amended the government’s Bill on the Murray Darling Basin Plan to improve accountability and support for impacted communities.
Dr Haines effectively negotiated four amendments to the Restoring our Rivers Bill. The first amendment provides for reviews of compensation payments made to address detrimental social or economic impacts on communities from water buybacks, to ensure they are adequately and meaningfully responding to community needs.
The other successful amendments strengthen the independent auditing powers of the Inspector General of Water Compliance, to improve accountability and transparency when it comes to meeting Murray Darling Basin Plan targets and delivering projects as promised.
“As an Independent regional MP, I make my decisions based on what is best for Indi, what is evidence-based, and what sets up rural and regional Australia to thrive.
“This Labor Government doesn’t always get it right when it comes to regional Australia, so I worked hard to negotiate with the Minister to get a better outcome for Indi and for regional Australia,” Dr Haines said.
Dr Haines also moved amendments explicitly stating that buybacks are targeted from across the whole Basin, to make it clear that the pursuit of environmental outcomes in the Northern Basin is allowed and encouraged; and ensuring communities, farmers and landholders affected by increased water flows resulting from constraints relaxation projects are adequately consulted about these projects.
“The largest amount of water that is delivered to the lower Murray Darling Basin flows from the Hume, Dartmouth and Eildon dams in Indi, and I am concerned about serious negative environmental and economic impacts for Indi farmers below the dams on the Goulburn and Murray Rivers. If additional water is to be purchased, it must be from the where it is most effective rather than from where it is easiest,” Dr Haines said.
While the Government did not agree to these amendments in the House of Representatives, Dr Haines is working with Independent Senate colleagues to ensure they could be further debated.
“In my electorate of Indi, communities are concerned about the negative economic and environmental impacts of increased water flows,” Dr Haines said.
“My constituents want to see greater integrity measures around water use and water recovery projects to make sure we are returning the right amount of water to the right Basin locations. What is needed are consistent, independent and publicly available accounting processes to ensure the actual water savings for projects match the promises made.”
Dr Haines has consulted widely in the past months to hear directly from farmers, water experts, land and water management organisations and other Basin stakeholders.
“Water policy is complex and contested. Delivering water when there are competing needs of agriculture, river communities and the environment is challenging. I have met with and listened to water experts and community members impacted by the Basin Plan to understand their different experiences and perspectives,” Dr Haines said.
“I have consulted with farmers on the Goulburn River near Alexandra, and grape growers and irrigators on the Murray. I’ve spoken with water scientists, my local First Nations community, environmentalists, local businesses and water catchment management authorities.
“The message from farmers in my electorate is clear: the impacts on both their farms and the health of their river need to be considered when planning the volumes and timing of environmental flows, and the purchasing of water entitlements.”
The water catchments across Dr Haines’ electorate of Indi supply more than 50 per cent of the surface water to the whole Murray-Darling Basin. Indi also contains the Murray-Darling Basin’s largest water storages: Dartmouth Dam, Hume Dam and Lake Eildon. These dams and lakes, along with smaller dams in the electorate, amount to 63 per cent of storage capacity in the Southern Basin and 45 per cent of total storage for the whole Murray-Darling Basin.
“The rivers and water infrastructure of Indi are central to national efforts to achieve a healthy river system,” Dr Haines said.
“We need a Plan that puts us on the front foot with a healthy river system that delivers for farmers, for Basin towns and communities, for First Nations communities, and the environment, and is resilient in the face of a changing climate.
“I want this Bill to be the best it can be because I want a healthy and resilient river system and a Basin Plan that is fair, transparent, and pragmatic. A Plan that ensures our critical food production is maintained at maximum efficiency and importantly gives genuine voice to the basin communities of Indi and of regional Australia who are directly impacted.”
View Dr Haines’ amendments here.
Watch and read Dr Haines’ full speech here.