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Crucial reforms approved for Murray-Darling Basin.

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PW 249/08 4 December, 2008 CRUCIAL REFORMS APPROVED FOR MURRAY-DARLING BASIN The Federal Parliament today passed crucial reforms on the management of the Murray-Darling Basin, in another significant step towards making Basin water use sustainable and rivers and wetlands healthy. Passage of the Water Amendment Bill 2008 through the Commonwealth Parliament followed the passage of complementary legislation in four State parliaments. “The approval of these reforms marks a critical change in how Australia’s most important river system, the Murray-Darling Basin, is managed,” Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, said. “The centrepiece of the reforms is the development of a new Basin Plan and sustainable diversion limit, or ‘cap’, on the Basin’s surface and groundwater resources. “The Basin Plan will also include water quality and salinity management targets, an environmental watering plan and rules about trading water rights. “The Basin Plan will be developed and administered by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, an independent expert body, with the Commonwealth Minister having sign-off.” Senator Wong said while there is more work to do to fix the problems in the Murray-Darling Basin, the reforms are a crucial step towards securing a viable future for the Basin’s communities, farmers and rivers. “With the support of South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, we will work to meet the challenges faced by the Basin including over-allocation, drought and climate change. “The approval of these reforms is the result of States and the Commonwealth working together to show leadership in the national interest, and I thank all Ministers and officials involved.” Actions the Government is already taking to address the critical situation in the Basin include: already committing $3.9 billion towards priority water efficiency and irrigation infrastructure projects in the Basin undertaking the first-ever purchase of water by a Federal Government to return to Basin rivers and wetlands - out of a $3.1 billion commitment for this purpose new northern and southern Basin tenders to purchase water to return to rivers and wetlands a program to work with State governments to purchase appropriately-sited properties with large water entitlements where environmental benefits and value-for-money exist (eg the recently-purchased Toorale station) inviting groups of irrigators wishing to leave the industry to submit proposals to sell their water entitlements together in ways that provide benefits for farmers and rivers a small block irrigators exit grant package program