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PM’s letter: zero allocations expected for commencement of 2007-08 irrigation season; Turnbull waives outside watering restriction in South Australia

Posted by waterweek on 25 September 2007

South Australian Premier Mike Rann quoted at length from a letter by Prime Minister John Howard detailing the critical water situation, when speaking in the South Australian House of Assembly on 11 September 2007.
Magic Garden

New record low inflows: Rann said: “The letter is headed `Prime Minister, Canberra’, and it states: ‘I am writing to you in regard to the second “Murray-Darling Basin Dry Inflow Contingency Planning Report”, which we received from the Senior Officials’ Group on 13 April 2007. I note that inflows in the Basin have continued to set new record lows in recent months. The report states that “unless there are very substantial inflows prior to mid-May 2007, there will be insufficient water available to allow any allocation at the commencement of the 2007-08 water year for irrigation, the environment or any purpose other than critical urban supplies”. The water situation remains extremely critical. Given the seriousness of the current situation, I propose that we accept all of the recommendations of the report and release the proposed joint statement as soon as possible.

Legislation needed urgently: ‘The time for allocation decisions for the start of the water year is nearly upon us, and we will need to act with immediate effect once the final outlook for water availability at the start of 2007-08 is known. We will therefore need the next report from the Senior Officials’ Group by mid May. It is clear that contingency planning will also need to continue well into the 2007-08. In the meantime, to ensure that critical human use can be met efficiently, we need to agree to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement…so that the minimum monthly quantities of River Murray water for dilution and losses are not applied by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission after 31 May 2007. This should be progressed as a matter of urgency in order to satisfy critical human water consumption needs for those communities dependent on southern Basin water supplies should dry conditions persist in 2007-08. I emphasise that appropriate legislation to amend the Agreement will need to be introduced and sought to be passed into each of our Parliaments by 1 July 2007. I look for your support to meet this time frame.

Getting a clear message across to public: Rann continued: “Then the Prime Minister went on to say: ‘We face an unprecedented water situation. In addition to the potentially devastating effects on agriculture of what could be zero allocations at the start of the irrigation season, we are advised that unless there are significant inflows to the storages, all outside water use for domestic purposes dependent on southern Murray-Darling Basin supplies should be prohibited from 1 July 2007. I note that this also includes conditions for water use on industry users reliant on town water supply. Given the nature of the situation, it is vital to communicate effectively with the public, and in particular with affected irrigators, industry and rural towns, the seriousness of the challenge we face. For this reason, I propose that we release the Senior Officials report, amended to remove commercially sensitive information. I would appreciate your early agreement to this course of action, so that we can issue the report when we make a joint statement, which I propose that we do tomorrow, 17 April 2007. I ask for urgent confirmation of your agreement, through your Senior Officials, as soon as possible.'”

Buck stops at Malcolm Turnbull: The letter continued: ‘Each of our governments will need to determine what we will do to assist people and businesses most affected by the expected zero allocations for the commencement of the 2007-08 irrigation season. At the Commonwealth level, I have asked the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, as Chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, to be responsible for effective implementation by the Ministerial Council of the recommendations of the report.’

Turnbull’s inconsistent action: “So herein lies the rub,” said Rann, “because what he is saying is that outside watering is prohibited and Malcolm Turnbull is responsible for that implementation. Then, later on, a week or so ago, Malcolm Turnbull waived that restriction on South Australia in an interview. The Prime Minister goes on to say — in case you think I am censoring anything: ‘I have also instructed my department to work with the Department of the Environment and Water Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to consider the Commonwealth’s possible response as a matter of urgency. The dire situation we currently face in the basin exemplifies the need to be able to take a more flexible national approach to determine the allocation and management of available water that is embodied in the current governance arrangements. I very much hope that the clear referral of powers to manage water in the Murray Darling Basin can be agreed as soon as possible by all jurisdictions to enable the National Plan on Water Security to be set in train.'”

Reference: M.D. Rann, Premier of South Australia, Minister for the Arts, House of Assembly, South Australia, 11 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 17/9/2007

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