SA Liberals hypocrisy on voluntary water buybacks laid bare

SA Gov

The rank hypocrisy of SA Liberals that previously advocated for voluntary water buybacks has been on show as state and federal MPs capitulate to the hard right of the party to oppose 450 gigalitres of water being returned to the River Murray.

The Senate is currently voting to finalise the Murray-Darling Basin Plan after more than 10 years of delays and sabotage by the previous Coalition government.

Because of this, voluntary buybacks are now the only way South Australia will recover the bulk of the 450GL promised but not delivered.

In the lead up to the Senate debate, SA Liberals continue to have a bob each way on buybacks – one message for country voters and one for those in at-risk city seats.

Opposition Leader David Speirs, himself accused by a Royal Commission of “capitulating” to the upstream states on SA’s water rights, is among those now opposing buybacks despite his previous support while he was environment minister.

“…if you need to use buybacks or even threaten to use buybacks, I wouldn’t rule those out, so I think Labor and I are pretty close on that,” he said at the time.

In a staggering reversal of his 2021 speech to the Federal Parliament, Sturt Liberal MP James Stevens is among those SA Liberals who have voted against the return the 450GL of environmental flows to the River Murray.

As recently as September this year, Mr Stevens was telling media outlets that voluntary buybacks “should be considered” only to vote them down last month after pressure from the hard right of his Party.

The Royal Commission into the River Murray in SA dispelled the myth voluntary buybacks adversely impact communities.

In a submission to the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023, the Commissioner for the River Murray, Richard Beasley SC, also highlighted the lack of any peer reviewed research on supposed impacts of buybacks.

“These assertions are not supported by peer reviewed economic research or papers, or defensible economic reports,” Mr Beasley said.

What has been established by such reports, Mr Beasley continued, was:

  • buying water was cheaper for governments
  • money earned from buybacks was spent locally
  • most farmers only sold part of their rights
  • farmers reduced their debt
  • water purchases provide greater certainty than other measures

In the event there were any legitimate impacts on communities, the Albanese Government has set aside $20 million for South Australia.

As put by Susan Close

Why on earth are SA Liberals siding with upstream governments, cotton and rice growers and other irrigators who have continued to over extract water to the detriment of the health of the River Murray and prosperity of South Australia.

It is unconscionable that South Australian Liberal MPs and Senators have been browbeaten by the extremists in their own Party and have voted against returning the 450 gigalitres promised to our State but not delivered.

The Liberals’ position is particularly galling given it was the Coalition government that spent more than 10 years delaying and sabotaging the plan resulting in just two of the 450GL for environmental flows being delivered on their watch.

The Malinauskas Government will not accept anything less than a Basin Plan that delivers on all of its original commitments, including environmental outcomes equivalent to the recovery of 3200 gigalitres of water.

/Public News. View in full here.