The federal government has signed into law a long-awaited plan to save the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Thursday, Water Minister Tony Burke said Australia had been waiting for the reform since Federation.
‘‘In my view Australia has been putting this off for more than a century, that needs to end, that ends today,’’ Mr Burke said.
‘‘Today, under the Gillard government, Australia, a century late, but hopefully just in time, has its first Murray-Darling Basin plan.
‘‘Today is the day Australia decided to restore the Murray-Darling to health.’’
The process to deliver the new basin plan was first started under the former Howard government and has taken five years to come to fruition.
The plan will recover 2750 billion litres of water from farmers and irrigators for the environment by 2019.
Almost $10 billion will be spent on more efficient irrigation infrastructure, pumping and piping projects on wetlands and floodplains, and buy backs of water entitlements from farmers.
A separate bill, which passed the Senate this week, allows the government to spend another $1.8 billion by 2024 to try to recover an additional 450 billion litres for the river through water savings from on-farm infrastructure upgrades.
The plan, however, still has hurdles to clear. It does not need to pass Parliament, but may have to survive a disallowance motion.
The Greens say the amount of water proposed to be returned to the river is scientifically insufficient to ensure the river’s environment health. But the Coalition has strongly hinted it is unlikely to vote to bring down the plan.
An inter-governmental agreement with state governments on how the plan will be put in place also needs to be signed.
Mr Burke said he expected an agreement to be signed at next month's meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.
He said it future years if states refuse to implement the new basin plan, he has powers to override.
State government want extra compensation over the next decade to cover the costs of putting the plan in place. New South Wales has also demanded a cap on water buy backs in the state be included in the plan, which has not occurred. The NSW government has threatened to legislate its own cap if it does not get its way.
The story INTERACTIVE: Government signs off on new Murray plan first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.