A healthy Murray-Darling Basin

This campaign focused on opposing lobbyiest derailing the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Stop sabotaging the Basin Plan


The Murray-Darling Basin is a mighty system of rivers, lakes and wetlands, covering a large part of south-eastern Australia. It’s home to globally important wetlands, majestic river red gum forests and nearly 100 different species of waterbirds. People depend on the health of the river system too. More than two million people live in the Basin, including 40 different First Nations, and they rely on this river water for drinking, farming, fishing and swimming. But after years of mismanagement, the Murray-Darling Basin is on the brink of ecological collapse. In the last decade we’ve seen dry riverbeds, toxic algae blooms and massive fish kills. The river system is complex, but the core problem is simple – people have been taking too much water from the river, which doesn’t leave enough to sustain the wildlife and wetlands that also need a decent drink.

• The vision behind the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
• How the Plan has been bastardised
• How Victoria is affected
• The impact of climate change
• 4 ways to revive our rivers

The vision
The Murray Darling Basin Plan was supposed to fix this. Back in 2007, Prime Minister John Howard’s vision was for “radical and permanent change” to the way our biggest river system was managed. Howard said the Basin Plan would address over-allocation of water “once and for all”. It would reduce how much water could be taken from the river, leaving enough for the wetlands, forests, birds, fish and frogs to survive.

Bastardising the Basin Plan
But having a plan is one thing, and following through on it is another. Right from the start, a handful of powerful corporate interests and their cashed-up lobbyists have lobbied governments to undermine the Plan and rig the rules in their favour. With every political sell-out and backroom deal, the vision behind the Basin Plan has been bastardised: In the news: The Basin Plan has been compromised at every turn.
• The total amount of water to be returned to rivers is far below what the science recommends. [1]
• Recovering that water for the environment has been constantly delayed. [2]
• The cheapest and most effective method of recovering water for the environment – buying it back – has been ruled out in favour of dubious ‘efficiency’ projects. [3]
• Governments have turned a blind eye to blatant water theft. [4]
• Some landowners have built earthworks to capture floodwaters in huge private dams, instead of letting it flow naturally down the river. NSW is now attempting to make this unfair practise legal. [5]
• Private property is blocking natural floods from reaching the wetlands that need them. Only 21 percent of water for the environment floods over the bank to keep the floodplain healthy. [6]

The list goes on, each political deal undermining the whole point – to reduce how much water is taken from the river. After years of this, we’re in a situation that benefits a chosen few. Water is going to the people with the most money or the best connections, leaving the community and environment to suffer. Call on our federal government to stop sabotaging the Basin Plan.

How Victoria is affected
While a lot of recent attention has focused on the northern Basin, the rivers of southern NSW and northern Victoria are suffering too. The historic overallocation of major rivers like the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Goulburn, Campaspe, Loddon and Murray has never been fully addressed – which means an unsustainable amount of water is still diverted to irrigation, leaving nowhere near enough for a healthy river ecosystem. Plus when the Darling River doesn’t flow, that puts more pressure on the Murray River to meet downstream demands, supplying water to large irrigators around Mildura while making sure South Australia gets the water it needs. As a result, some Victorian rivers that feed into the Murray have been treated like irrigation channels. Huge volumes of water have been pushed down the Goulburn River to the Murray, eroding riverbanks to the point of collapse, destroying critical fish habitat and damaging important Indigenous cultural sites. In recent years, we’ve been able to secure stronger limits on these destructive flows for the first time. But we will keep pushing for greater protection. Australia has a highly variable climate, and wetter years can bring some welcome relief. River red gums drink deeply, wetlands are replenished and waterbirds raise clutches of chicks. But unless we fix the core problems with water management in the Murray-Darling Basin, these wetter years won’t be enough to keep the river system alive. After all, nothing can survive on a decent drink once every twenty years. Learn more about why our rivers are in trouble

Climate and future choices
On top of all this, there’s climate change. A hotter, drier climate means less water is flowing into the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. As a result, competition for water is only going to get worse. If a handful of rogue irrigators lobby to continue taking more than their fair share, but the overall amount of water in the river system decreases, that leaves even less for the environment. If we do nothing, regional communities could face a frightening future. A few large players would own most of the water, leaving everyone else with sick rivers and too little water to go around. But if we act now we can secure a better future for the Basin. A future with thriving regional communities that have diverse industries providing good jobs. A future where rivers and wetlands are brimming with life, and First Nations have the right to protect, manage and own water on their traditional Country. We can revive our rivers and communities, and it starts with going back to first principles – reducing the unsustainable amount of water taken from our rivers.


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Campaign Details

Group Leading this Campaign: Environment Victoria

Main Issue of the Campaign:

Campaign Ran From: 2017 to 2024

Campaign Outcome:

Year Outcome Assessed:

Geographic Range of Activity:


A healthy Murray-Darling Basin