The Greens’ motion to block the Federal Government’s changes has been carried 32–30.

Leading proponents Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the plan had been plagued by “scandal after scandal”.

“Until you [the Government] clean up this mess, there is no way we're going to start to take more water off the river just to give it to those who have already been too greedy by far,” Senator Hanson-Young told Parliament.

Labor's Penny Wong said MDBP was at risk of being “wrecked” by the Government.

“We want the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to survive. It is the plan we delivered in government,” she said.

“But we cannot agree today to reducing the volume of water without the proper assurances that the basin will remain healthy.”

NSW Water Minister Niall Blair has released a statement saying it is now “untenable” for his government to remain in the basin plan.


New South Wales and Victoria are threatening to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin plan if reforms do not go ahead.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has recommended a 70GL (18 per cent) reduction in the environmental water recovery target, allowing more for farmers and other irrigation users.

The Greens have moved to disallow the change in the federal Senate.

“This disallowance vote undermines important reforms that helped fix a 100-year-old problem, and hurts the communities who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to make the basin plan a success,” says the NSW regional water minister, Niall Blair.

“It takes us back to square one and NSW will need to seek a new agreement directly with Victoria in order to deliver healthy rivers and one in which people, not politics, are put first.”

Labor says it will back the Greens’ motion.

“My intention is to ensure that the entire plan is delivered,” shadow minister for environment and water Tony Burke said.

“Ever since Barnaby Joyce became water minister some people have thought it might be possible to only deliver half of the plan.

“Labor is in negotiations with the government and is determined that the Murray-Darling basin plan is delivered in full.”

Federal assistant water minister Anne Ruston says blocking the MDBA’s call would be a mistake.

“There is a very real and imminent danger that Victoria and NSW, probably followed closely by Queensland, would pull out,” she said.

“Playing political games just because we’ve got a South Australian election and putting this plan in jeopardy is a very serious thing to be doing.”

The National Farmers’ Federation and Cotton Australia are among the agricultural lobbies supporting the reduced water recovery target.

“The Murray-Darling Basin plan was written in a way to allow adaptive management, with enough flexibility to utilise new knowledge and to adjust operational management of our rivers to get better ecological outcomes from held environmental water while eventually providing certainty for the river and river communities,” they said in an open letter to parliamentarians.

“While not everyone in the basin likes the plan, everyone has been working towards achieving it and delivering a balanced plan. Today that hangs in the balance and we are concerned that we are on the verge of seeing the efforts of many thrown away, compromising future environmental outcomes.”

The Australian Floodplain Association, several councils in the basin, some graziers and small farmers oppose the cut.

The Greens also want to block changes to the southern basin plan, which are before the Senate in a separate bill.

Those reforms seek to save 605GL of water via projects that increase water efficiency, rather than buybacks.

Some environmental groups doubt the effectiveness of the project, and the SA Government wants efforts to restore 450GL to the lower Murray by 2024.

The NFF is supports the plans for the southern basin.

“Without these changes, all the basin plan will achieve is a volume of water that cannot be effectively delivered – billions of taxpayer dollars spent on a number,” the NFF said.