Govt defends Murray-Darling buyback scheme

The Australian government has been forced to defend its policy of buying water for the parched Murray-Darling Rivers as it announced $350m of water will be bought in Queensland.

Last month, the government started purchasing $50m of water which was intended to secure 35bn litres of water.

But critics of the buyback scheme have suggested that it will only result in 10 megalitres reaching the rivers and said none of the purchases will take effect quickly enough to save the rivers.

Defending the scheme, Water Minister Penny Wong said: “After 12 years of inaction under the previous government, we are the first Federal Government to enter the water market to tackle over-allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin.”

She added: “The tender process is an effective way to purchase water for rivers and wetlands at a price which is acceptable to both the buyer – the Australian community – and the seller.”

It is hoped that purchasing water in Queensland will benefit wetlands and rivers in the northern Basin and increase flows in the Darling River.

But ministers admitted that at the moment the Darling River is so dry that increasing the amount of water there is unlikely to benefit the Murray River.

“Unfortunately there is currently just not enough water in the system to do everything we want to do,” Senator Wong said.

Liberal Shadow Water Minister John Cobb said the buyback policy was simply political spin and accused ministers of buying the cheapest water possible.

“All the $50m has bought is a promise in the future of water,” he added. “It has bought air space – it will not put any water in the Murray River at this time.”

The Green Party is holding weekly rallies calling for water to be released into the river system by October and has urged the government to set up an independent national water authority.

“The present situation is a mess of bureaucracy and buck-passing,” South Australia Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said. “The Murray needs a drink before Christmas.”

The money committed to the buyback scheme is part of a $3.1bn rescue plan for the river system.

Kate Martin

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