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A High Court Challenge To The Murray-Darling Water Plan?

The South Australian government says the revised Murray-Darling Basin plan is unacceptable and it is preparing a legal challenge.

“We are left with no choice,” Premier Jay Weatherill said. “We must act.”

Weatherill said the government would campaign against the plan. “I have instructed our lawyers to draft a legal challenge to this plan – so that if this plan is made law, we will be ready to fight it in court.”

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Media release from South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has sought a political compromise instead of being clear about who is responsible for the current state of the River Murray and what needs to be done to fix it.

The result is a revised plan which officially sanctions the over-allocation of water that has been going on for more than 40 years, damaging the Murray and threatening to destroy it.

The revised plan is unacceptable. It does not return enough water to provide for a healthy river.

It does not meet Australia’s international obligations to protect our Ramsar sites at the Coorong and Lower Lakes and at the Chowilla floodplains.

It does not recognise that South Australia’s irrigators capped their take more than 40 years ago, while upstream States continued to take more and more water – and inexplicably it removes the drinking water quality target contained in the earlier drafts.

We are left with no choice. We must act.

The next period will determine the fate of the river system for decades to come.

After reviewing the matter today in Cabinet, we have decided that we will fight this plan.

First, we will launch a campaign to inform all South Australians about the risks to our future that this plan poses.

We will encourage people to push for a plan that is consistent with the best available scientific knowledge.

Secondly, we are going to take this fight on nationally – because this river system is important to all Australians.

We will argue the case to save the Murray everywhere. We need pressure from all parts of the Australian community to force changes to this plan.

Thirdly, I have instructed our lawyers to draft a legal challenge to this plan – so that if this plan is made law, we will be ready to fight it in court.

It is clear to us that this plan does not meet the objectives of the Commonwealth’s Water Act 2007, which requires the plan to protect the internationally recognised wetlands of the Coorong and the Chowilla floodplains in SA.

We believe that our constitutional rights have also been trampled upon.

The States were created equal. We are not being treated as equals.

The Australian Constitution and the rights it confers on States in respect of water have never been tested. It is our intention to test them.

I want to make a couple of points clear.

In South Australia, we recognised the crisis in the Murray more than 40 years ago.

All South Australian Governments – Labor & Liberal – have respected this river, capping our take of the waters of the river.

Our irrigators are great stewards of the system, as are the people of Adelaide, who have also acted to conserve the waters of the river – in particular during the most recent drought.

It is a pity others have not followed our lead and still seem unwilling to do so.

I say now the season of poor compromises is over and the season for standing up and fighting has begun.

It will be a tough fight – South Australia against the power of the eastern states and the rice and cotton industries.

I will need the support of all South Australians, all political parties, all industry and community groups and individuals in this State to win this fight. We need to muster all the public pressure we can to secure the future of the river and the communities that rely upon it.

This generation needs to be able to look our children in the eye and say that when the time came to act we fought for the future of the river and we did everything we could:

That we explored every avenue.

That we took whatever action was necessary.

That we protected our environment.

That we protected our food bowl and those who work and live along the River.

That our livelihoods were secured.

That our Constitution was upheld.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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