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Warning over River Murray High Court challenge by South Australia

| 20.01,12. 04:53 PM |


Warning over River Murray High Court challenge by South Australia


 January 20, 2012

A THREATENED High Court challenge over the future of the River Murray could ruin the chance of any united national outcome, Liberals warn.
Premier Jay Weatherill today challenged Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to "be straight" with South Australia on his party's position on the Murray.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is in the final stages of preparing a reform plan for the national river systems and has flagged extraction cuts of 2750 billion litres a year.

The plan has been criticised by leading scientists and the CSIRO for using questionable science and failing to ensure environmental outcomes, including the health of the Lower Lakes.

Mr Abbott is in Adelaide today and will ride in the Tour Down Under charity Bupa Challenge.

Mr Weatherill said the Federal Opposition Leader had sent conflicting messages about the River, including reported comments that SA should not be forced to "go begging" for water upstream.

"Last month Mr Abbott was very vocal in his support for upstream communities at a meeting in the regional New South Wales town of Griffith," Mr Weatherill said. "South Australians are entitled to know what that will mean for them."

Mr Abbott's office yesterday deflected a request for comment to SA Liberal senator and Opposition environment parliamentary secretary Simon Birmingham.

In a short statement, a spokesman said Labor had "squandered the last four years" and done virtually nothing with a a $5.8 billion infrastructure fund established by the Coalition.

Senator Birmingham said the current Basin plan was "not perfect" but the Opposition was committed to delivering a result that considered the entire system.

He said Mr Weatherill's threat of a High Court challenge risked demolishing any chance of a united national outcome.

"We think it can be improved," Senator Birmingham said.

"We'll support it if it's a good plan, and a good plan is one that's fair to all sides."

Meanwhile, the respected Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists have broken their silence on the draft plan released late last year and allege it includes data manipulated for political ends.

They identified five major flaws, including that the plan does not identify the volume of water needed for a healthy working river system and that there is no information on how effective the plan would be in coping with long dry periods.

"Nobody believes the draft plan released by the Authority is capable of delivering the reforms needed to create a healthy working Murray-Darling Basin," they wrote in a report.

"What the Authority has done is stop this science being made available and has refused to subject it to transparent independent review so that people can make informed decisions."

It says the proposed reform package includes paying irrigators $20 billion which, if it doesn't fix the river system, "will be a scandal of generational proportions".

The scientists call on the government and parliament to reject the plan as it stands.


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