Labor's Five-Point Plan to Safeguard the Murray Darling Basin

Labor’s five-point plan to safeguard the Murray Darling Basin will uphold the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and lay the groundwork for the Basin’s future: 

  1. Delivering on water commitments, including the 450 gigalitres for South Australia.
  2. Increasing compliance, and improving metering and monitoring.
  3. Restoring transparency, integrity and confidence in water markets and water management.
  4. Increasing First Nations ownership and involvement in decision-making.
  5. Updating the science.

Why is this needed?

The Murray Darling is Australia’s biggest and most important river system. Its future is critical for the livelihoods and welfare of millions of Australians and for our environment and natural resources.

It supports about 41 percent of the total gross value of Australia’s agricultural production, including 46 percent of the gross value of national irrigated agriculture. It is also of immeasurable value to local communities, First Nations people, and to the natural environment – including the Ramsar wetlands it supports. 

Over their decade in office, the Morrison-Joyce Government has refused to implement the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The Liberals will never act because the Nationals won’t let them. As a result, the Basin communities are hurting and the environment is paying the price.

South Australians haven’t forgotten that Barnaby Joyce told them to “move to where the water is” during the millennium drought. Under the most recently published review, less than 0.5% of the promised 450 gigalitres had been delivered for South Australia.

In 2021, members of the Morrison-Joyce Government banded together in Parliament to try to remove the 450 gigalitres from the Basin Plan altogether.  

Labor will deliver on the final 450 gigalitres of water for the environment that Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce have failed to deliver.

Our policy will uphold the Murray Darling Plan and lay the groundwork for the Basin’s future by restoring integrity, boosting compliance and driving reform.

The details 

1. Delivering on water commitments

Labor will recognise the value of local government expertise and on-the-ground experience in its decision-making, and will work with Basin governments and stakeholders for the delivery of water commitments in the Murray Darling Basin by:   

  • Holding the Basin jurisdictions to their commitment to deliver environmental outcomes equivalent to those that would have been provided by the 605GL of water through supply and constraints easing measures.

  • Insisting that the 450 GL of additional water – that was the basis for South Australia agreeing to join the Plan – be delivered.

  • Determining the cause of the delays in the delivery of projects that ease constraints, consistent with the Constraints Management Strategy.

2. Increasing compliance, metering and monitoring

An Albanese Labor Government will increase compliance by: 

  • Ensuring the Inspector General of Water Compliance has the power needed to crack down on water theft, uphold Basin rules, and restore confidence amongst those living and working in the Basin.
  • Assess whether the Inspector General‘s first period of operation has delivered results, and, if not, making the penalties tougher and the powers stronger.
  • Ensuring the Inspector General can refer issues to the new national anti-corruption commission, provided they are within its scope, once established.
  • Making improving metering and measuring a priority and implementing a policy of “no meter no pump” across the entire Basin. This includes committing up to $29 million to immediately improve metering and measuring throughout the Basin, including improvements in measuring water collected through floodplain and overland flow harvesting.
  • Committing $6 million to reinstate the Sustainable Rivers Audit.
  • Ensuring the Inspector General leads a crackdown on any illegal structures that have been built in the Basin to divert water.

3. Restoring transparency, integrity, and confidence

Labor will restore integrity and confidence in decision making by: 

  • Working with the basin jurisdictions to ensure market surveillance and other integrity functions are conducted.

  • Working towards all water market participants in the Murray Darling Basin being required to have a unique common identifier to enable trades to be traced and traders to be identified.

  • Providing a full response to the ACCC’s recent water markets report.

  • Making the Murray Darling Basin Authority more transparent, including by making their modelling and data available to the public wherever possible.

4. Increasing First Nations ownership and participation

Labor will deliver the $40 million of cultural water promised in 2018 but not yet delivered. We would also make sure First Nation peoples’ authority, knowledge and experience better inform the work of environmental agencies and are incorporated into planning for environmental watering. 

5. Updating the science

Labor will future proof the Basin Plan by updating the science. 

We will consider whether the ability, under the Water Act, to ask the Murray Darling Basin Authority to bring forward the 2026 review of the Basin Plan has been activated. And if so, whether it should be brought forward. Under Labor, the review will specifically take into account the latest science and information compared to the science and information that informed the Basin Plan at the time it was created. This will include the latest: 

  • Data on climate change, evaporation and inflows.

  • Knowledge about floodplain harvesting.

  • Evidence about the effectiveness of efficiency measures.

Labor will invest up to $8.5 million to commission the CSIRO to re-run the Sustainable Yield study to inform the review. 

Labor will invest $3.5 million in an independent study into how climate change is likely to affect Ramsar sites across the Basin. This will include the impact of sea level rise on the Coorong and lower lakes as well as other key sites like the Ovens, Menindee, and Macquarie marshes and red gum forests.