Pick-and-choose politics could kill Basin Plan: Simson

Murray Darling Basin Plan in jeopardy with partisan politics NFF president Fiona Simson says


Opinion
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Partisan plays risk environment and agriculture, NFF president says

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Natoinal Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says partisan politics has thrown the Basin Plan into "disarray".

Natoinal Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says partisan politics has thrown the Basin Plan into "disarray".

The National Farmers Federation has always tried to take a moderate and pragmatic approach to water management in the Murray Darling Basin which recognises the need for balance.

Yes, we want irrigators to access Basin water for production, to maintain the viability of farm businesses and their local communities.

But we’ve also recognised from the beginning that an uncoordinated policy framework across states wasn’t sustainable.

We need a bipartisan Basin Plan for the long term, even if everyone doesn’t get exactly what they want.

The 2012 agreement to transfer of 2750 gigalitres of agricultural water to the environment has been painful for our sector, but we’ve supported this compromise with a constructive approach to the Plan’s implementation.

This commitment has paid off for the environment and farmers.

Today, 77 per cent of the original water recovery target of the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been recovered with 750 environmental water events in the past four years.

Irrigators with governments have and will continue to invest in innovative water efficiency programs and infrastructure.

The benefits of this is two-fold: protection of our river system and the continued productivity of our irrigation industries.

Traditional owners are also increasingly involved in a range of water planning and management activities to get better social and cultural outcomes.

Only this plan can provide a policy framework for resource allocation and practical water delivery measures that maximise the benefits this crucial resource provides.

Managing water doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game where one side loses and the other wins, where every drop of water allocated to agriculture needs to be at the expense of the environment.

Clever policy design, which allows equivalent environmental outcomes with less water redistribution, is essential to sustaining all aspects of the Basin; environmental, agricultural production, and regional communities.

Compromise is the basis for a Basin Plan that can last the distance.

Our approach has been to put politics aside to give everyone an effective plan over the long term.

Since 2012, there has been an independent, evidence-based process in place, managed by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

It gives everyone fair input into its implementation and puts the issue above party politicking.

Federal Labor established this approach and state governments of both shades agreed.

The NFF doesn’t like every aspect of the Plan, but a consensus and evidence-based approach is the only sensible way forward.

We don’t have the luxury of choosing the bits we like and discarding those we don’t.

In agreeing to the Greens’ Northern Basin review disallowance motion, Federal Labor has put the opportunity for a workable system into disarray.

If the MDBA can’t gain the support of Basin governments for more efficient environmental watering methods in the Northern Basin, backed by independent scientists, then what happens next?

Are larger efficiency projects in the Southern Basin now in the hands of interest groups and politicians, rather than the MDBA’s scientific experts?

If so, the Plan is dead.

It’s a complex policy area, and the temptation is for politicians and commentators to hit the ideological default button in the absence of informed knowledge of water policy.

But short-term politicking and taking the ‘us versus them’ approach to water management is counterproductive for everyone.

It brings no policy certainty, either for the environment or agriculture.

For measures that will take a generation to take full environmental effect, policy fluctuations based on value judgments doesn’t help anyone.

This Plan needs to work.

NFF remains committed to working constructively with Labor and environmental advocates to get the process back on track.

Let’s just stick to facts and keep the politics out of it.

  • Fiona is National Farmers’ Federation president and a Liverpool Plains farmer.

The story Pick-and-choose politics could kill Basin Plan: Simson first appeared on Farm Online.

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