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Speech: Murray-Darling Basin

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to speak about restoring our rivers. This week, the Australian Greens secured a critical lifeline for the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin is our country's lifeblood. An evaluation report by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released in December 2020 showed climate change and corporate greed are the biggest threats to Australia's biggest river system. That report highlights what the Greens have been saying all along: the climate crisis is plunging the basin into hotter and drier conditions year after year, meaning water for the environment is crucial for the survival of the Murray-Darling. Since the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan was legislated in 2012, more than 2,100 gigalitres of water each year has been allocated to the environment, but a shortfall of 750 gigalitres a year still remains. The Australian Greens are the only party that has opposed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan from the outset, when it was clear that it put profit and special interests ahead of science and the environment.

Rivers must run to stay alive, but if upstream corporate irrigators keep taking flood plain water, downstream users, such as small family farms, river communities and South Australia, will continue to suffer. Corporate greed must be reined in and action on the climate crisis is desperately needed if we are to save the Murray-Darling: the lifeblood of South Australia and our nation's largest food bowl.


The 40 First Nations in the Murray-Darling Basin collectively owned just 0.17 per cent of its water in 2020, according to the Australian Rivers Institute. After a decade of neglect and sabotage by the Liberals and Nationals, the basin plan is completely off track. The previous government let our communities down, let industry down and have failed to protect the environment. With another drought just around the corner, we must get that vital water back into our rivers and the flood plains.


Earlier this week, the Albanese government struck a deal with my federal Greens colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. That arrangement will see, we hope, 700 gigalitres of water used for farming each year allocated to the environment through commonwealth buybacks across the Murray-Darling Basin. The agreement includes $100 million allocated to help First Nations people to participate in the water market, an independent order of water allocated to the environment throughout the basin and the legislated commitment to return 450 gigalitres of water to the environment each year by 31 December 2027.


The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has not delivered what it promised to deliver, and the commitments that the Australian Greens have been able to negotiate with the federal government will restore health to the river and trust in the plan. Funding for the First Nations people secured in return for the Greens' support of the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill was vital. For the
first time, First Nations communities will be in the objects of this act and the plan and put them front and centre. First Nations communities do need a say in how water is managed, and acknowledgement and recognition that their connection to water is as strong as their connection to land. They should have a say in how the Murray-Darling Basin is managed going forward.


I also commend Independent ACT Senator David Pocock, who has secured $50.5 million in a package to improve the health of the Upper Murrumbidgee River. That package has a $500,000 component that supports Ngunnawal and Ngambri traditional owners to take part in reviews of river use there. This is a significant win for our environment and river communities, to stop our rivers running dry. The passage of the Greens' amendment is a landmark and a win for South Australia after more than a decade of fighting for water that we need to protect the Coorong and Lower Lakes and to keep the Murray Mouth open.


In the week where we heard that, post the floods, the dredging of the Murray Mouth has recommenced, we needed some most welcome good news. We thank the federal Greens for securing that, in conjunction with Independent Senator David Pocock and the federal Albanese government.

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