State funding cuts to slash Murray-Darling work


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State funding cuts to slash Murray-Darling work

Date February 27, 2013 15 reading now

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Tom Arup

Environment editor, The Age

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The head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will write to state ministers warning them that potential budget cuts will see environmental programs for the rivers axed and maintenance work threatened.

The authority – the independent body that oversees the Murray-Darling system – says if the Victorian government follows recently announced budget cuts to the body by New South Wales and South Australia it will have to further slash its operations.

Programs in the gun could include salinity monitoring and managing, water quality monitoring, and environmental site restoration.

In a speech last Friday in Sydney, authority chairman Craig Knowles said in a worst case budget scenario there could also be insufficient funds to carry out maintenance and renewal programs on key river infrastructure such as dams, weirs, locks and barrages.


He said the ability to deliver water to irrigators and towns could be threatened, adding: ”In the long term, this will mean the key assets will deteriorate and will pose a greatly increased risk to downstream populations.”

The NSW government cut its annual funding to the authority from $32 million to $12 million in July last year. Mr Knowles said it would make a further cut from July 1 to $8.9 million a year, all up reducing its contribution by over 70 per cent.

As a result, state governments have already agreed to axe a popular native fish strategy and a river health audit program overseen by the authority.

South Australia has also flagged that it will cut its contribution to the authority in half from July 2014, which would strip a further $14.3 million.

Victoria has given no indication that it would cut its contribution. A spokeswoman for Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh said his views had not changed since previously questioning whether the authority should continue to fund some assets in South Australia in light of their cuts.

He has also said: ”It is important that the operational side of the MDBA [authority] is run as efficiently as possible.”

In his speech, Mr Knowles said the authority was yet to hear how Victoria would respond. But he added that as Victoria would be cross-subsiding NSW and South Australia, it could not be long before it also made cuts.

Mr Knowles said if other states followed SA’s lead and cut funding by 50 per cent, all programs beyond maintenance and operation of dams and weirs would go. Those to be cut would include the long-standing Living Murray works and indigenous programs.

If other states follow NSW’s 70 per cent cut, he said there would be insufficient funds to even carry out planned maintenance and renewals program of weirs and dams.

Federal Water Minister Tony Burke said: ”There is no way of dressing it up, the cuts are irresponsible. There is essential infrastructure which needs to be maintained and at some point in time these cuts will need to be turned around.”

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