TRAVEL DARLING RIVER RUN
The future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is at risk after federal government changes which sought to distribute water differently were shot down in the Senate.
The coalition was unable to strike a deal with Labor, which supported a Greens disallowance motion which passed 32 votes to 30 on Wednesday.
A furious NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said the plan, which delivers healthy rivers and viable regional communities, had been thrown on the scrap heap in a "race for votes in South Australia".
"This move makes the basin plan untenable for NSW," he said.
His Victorian counterpart Lisa Neville has also flagged intentions to walk away.
"(It) is a slap in the face to communities and a slap in the face to the environment," she said.
"We want the commonwealth to investigate all options to overturn this decision. If that is not possible the plan cannot be delivered."
The government was attempting to reduce the amount of water being returned to the environment in southern Queensland and northern NSW, easing pressure on farmers in those regions.
"Make no mistake, tonight the Australian Senate puts the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in peril," cabinet minister Simon Birmingham told parliament.
South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said blocking the changes would provide the chance for integrity to be restored to the plan after allegations of water theft in the northern part of the basin.
She believes the changes will hurt communities who rely on the Murray River in SA.
"Big corporate irrigators have been ripping off the river, ripping off the taxpayer, and all this regulation does is reward them," Senator Hanson-Young said.
The two Nick Xenophon Team senators and independent Cory Bernardi, all from SA, also backed the Greens' move to sink changes to the plan.
Labor and the NXT are open to further negotiations, arguing it is up to the government to meet their demands on compliance and environmental concerns.
Assistant Water Minister Anne Ruston warned Victoria and NSW government threats to withdraw from the plan were not a bluff.
"If we see an outcome where New South Wales or Victoria choose to walk away from this plan as they've threatened to do, it would be an unmitigated disaster," Senator Ruston said.
She said she wasn't moving away from serious allegations of water theft, but urged her Senate colleagues to work constructively to fix the plan rather than blow it up.
Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong said until the government was serious about tackling the theft and allegations of corruption, the party was not in a position to support the northern basin proposal.
"It was Labor that delivered the Murray-Darling plan in government and it is Labor that will fight today to save that plan, the whole plan, the entire plan, for all Australians," she said.
The National Farmers Federation said Labor's actions were at best short-sighted and reckless and at worst a "sign of contempt for regional Australia".
Water has been a hot issue in the South Australian election, where Labor is seeking to retain government.
The Australian Conservation Foundation praised the opposition and Senate crossbenchers for "drawing a line in the sand".