A key initiative of the Coalition Government to keep communities and jobs at the heart of the Murray Darling Basin Plan has gone under in Labor’s first Federal Budget, says Member for Barker Tony Pasin MP.
Last months Federal Labor Budget scrapped a $97 million grant program designed to fund community-led, on-ground projects and infrastructure to improve river health and promote agricultural productivity and community economic development.
“The Coalition Government made great strides in the past 18 months to put people back at the centre of the Murray Darling Basin Plan– putting a stop to buybacks, empowering local people to improve their stretch of river and boosting the economic outlook of their towns and businesses,” Mr Pasin said.
“Labor have taken office and within just a few months reversed the policy direction on water to the detriment of Riverland communities,” Mr Pasin said.
The $97 million Healthy Rivers – Healthy Communities grant program was intrinsically linked to the Coalition Government’s vision for the Basin and encouraged communities to work together to identify projects that contribute to the long-term health of the river system, sustaining natural heritage value as well as regional communities and agricultural industries.
The program and its funding was a demonstration that water recovery is not the only way to achieve good environmental outcomes.
In April 2022, Coalition Government Minister for Water the Hon. Keith Pitt MP approved a grant for more than $1.2 million under the program for Berri Barmera Council to undertake a significant environmental project.
This funding has now been scrapped and the project is unfunded.
“$1,257,760 in funding was approved by former Minister Pitt for the benefit the Barmera region to undertaking 2.35 hectares of weed treatment, remove 10 colonies of fox and rabbits over 35 hectares, fence four kilometres to protect 10 kilometres of riparian area and with 50 kilograms of seeds sown, plant 6,000 natives,” Mr Pasin said.
“Labor have pulled this funding out of the Barmera region to help pay for their policy of buybacks,” Mr Pasin said.
“Before the election Labor refused to rule out returning to a policy of water buy backs. Now they are telling us that to recover the additional 450GL buybacks are back on the table, but the funding detail is ‘not-for-publication’”.
Minister Plibersek has confirmed water buybacks are part of the undisclosed ‘significant funds’ allocated to finalising the Basin Plan in last month’s Federal Budget.
“The Murray Darling Basin is home to 2.6 million people who rely on the river to generate economic activity providing local jobs and generating $24 billion of agricultural output each year,” Mr Pasin said.
“We know from previous experience that buy backs kill communities and that’s why the former Coalition Government vowed never to use buy backs to recover environmental water,” Mr Pasin said.
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