Nationals threaten to spill water plan

12th March 2007The Federal Nationals are pushing to limit the buying back of irrigation licences as part of the Government’s $10-billion Murray-Darling Basin plan, raising accusations that they are trying to scupper the deal.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile and Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran are insisting purchase of irrigation entitlements should be only a last resort.

They fear drastic cuts in allotments could devastate irrigation towns in the basin.

“We need to address the issue of over-allocation, but the purchasing of water rights is a last resort rather than the starting point,” Mr McGauran told the Australian Financial Review.

But they have been accused of contradicting Prime Minister John Howard’s promise to end over allocation in the river system “once and for all”, partially through licence buy-backs.

It’s a point rejected by Mr Vaile, who says up to 3600 gigalitres will be saved for the environment through the $6B investment in infrastructure, with a further $3B put aside for structural adjustment for farmers who wish to leave the land or sell their water licences.

“The Government’s position is that we will be investing in plans, in infrastructure, to save a lot of the wastage of water through absorption and evaporation; and that should be the primary focus, because there are enormous savings to be had,” Mr Vaile said.

“Structurally, we recognise that there needs to be an addressing, if you like, of allocations throughout the Basin that have been made by states on a state by state basis without reference or thinking relatively to the overall system.

“That will be done by purchasing back allocations in the marketplace from willing sellers. And we’ve allocated $3 billion to that.”

SOURCE: AAP and FarmOnline.

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