The Guardian 21 February, 2007

Sunset clause should be part of water plan

The Australian Greens have called on the State Governments not to sign John Howard’s water plan. Last Friday the State Premiers left the meeting with Howard without signing on the dotted line of the Federal Government’s $10 billion plan to take over the Murray-Darling river system. The Greens are urging State and Territory leaders not to sign away their powers over water until they’ve made sure the plan will actually deliver.

"It is essential that the Premiers make sure the hard decisions are made before they sign on the dotted line", said Senator Rachel Siewert, Greens spokesperson on water resources.

"The plan has been cobbled together without priorities, targets and timelines. Right now it has more holes in it than a sieve", she said.

"The plan has major flaws and gives the States no guarantees that their pressing problems will be resolved and their water resources secured. For example, unless we solve over-allocation first, we could end up investing hundreds of millions of dollars in irrigation infrastructure in some areas where allocations ultimately need to be bought out and properties converted to dryland farming", she said.

"Who is responsible for natural resource management in our river plain and catchments? What are the environmental flow targets?

"Premiers should ensure that there are clear targets and timelines for the return of environmental flows, and any deal should have a sunset clause that provides for a full review of the plan’s success."

Senator Siewert noted that NSW Premier Morris Iemma had been ready to sign up to hand over control of the NSW section of the Murray-Darling prior to the meeting.

"Unfortunately water management in NSW has been a basket-case for some time — with a state election campaign pressing and no easy answers it is no wonder he wants to wash his hands of it."

The Greens are urging Premiers to give serious consideration to the model being proposed by SA Premier Mike Rann, and consider having an independent regulatory authority and an independent environmental trust.

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