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Liberals Blast Nationals Over Water Claims In South Australia

A Nationals scheme to shake up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is coming under sustained criticism from federal and state Liberals.

ADELAIDE, Australia — South Australia’s Liberal water minister has unleashed a wave of criticism on federal Nationals over suggestions the state no longer needs fresh water.

Nationals MPs and senators this week launched two failed bids to scrap 450 gigalitres of water being returned to the environment under a dramatic proposal to shake up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Liberals stared down their junior coalition partner’s rebellion despite the unusual attempt to force changes to an otherwise uncontroversial government bill improving compliance across the basin.

South Australia’s Water Minister David Speirs called for new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to reject his party’s push to blow up the basin plan.

“A minority within the federal party, particularly Victoria and New South Wales, have decided to pitch this unusual idea based on voodoo science,” Speirs said the reputed radio on June 25.

“They’re behaving completely irresponsibly.”

South Australia Water Minister David Speirs called for new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to reject his party’s push to blow up the basin plan. (Roy VanDerVegt/AAP Image)

Nationals whip Damian Drum accidentally circulated his talking points in parliament when he launched the party’s second failed push to change the government bill.

“The science no longer supports South Australia needing freshwater,” the document said.

“Rising sea levels will mean the South Australia lower lakes’ system will not need environmental water.”

Speirs rejected the claims, saying evidence clearly supported water coming into South Australia for the environment and irrigators.

“It’s one of those things you just shake your head at in absolute astonishment,” he said.

“You have to laugh because what else could you do.”

He said it was unbelievable a mainstream party of the federal government would make the statement.

The Nationals scheme would also have banned water buybacks and stopped more environmental flows after the plan’s completion in 2024.

The leader of the Nationals in the Senate Bridget McKenzie speaks to Nationals MP Damian Drum during a debate in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, June 23, 2021. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Government Senate leader Simon Birmingham — the most senior South Australian in the federal cabinet — said attempts to radically overhaul the basin plan needed to stop.

“I’ve seen members cross the floor before, and I expect I’ll see members cross the floor again,” he said to a reputed radio station.

“I also expect the government will remain resolute in its position of support for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.”

Senator Birmingham also rubbished suggestions his state would not need fresh water.

“No of course it’s not true. Freshwater is essential for any civilization. It’s certainly essential for any city, state, any population center,” he said.

“I assume the points were probably trying to say additional water flows or additional water recovery were not essential.”

He expressed deep disappointment with the Nationals but stressed he respected the rights of backbenchers to represent constituents.

(Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Ritaban Misra)

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