One of Australia’s biggest dairy processors says its raised issues around a water recovery socio-economic neutrality test with the Murrray Darling Basin Authority.
It comes at a time when the Victorian government and a Goulburn Murray Irrigation District lobby group have released their requirements for the socio-economic criteria that must underpin any further water recovery under the Basin Plan.
Fonterra’s Farm Source general manager Matt Watt told the Shepparton Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences Regional Outlook conference access to water was one of the most critical factors for farmers.
“Without water, farmers cannot grow milk,” he said.
Mr Watt said uncertainty around the delivery of the Murray Darling Basin and water entitlements was affecting farmer confidence.
“We’ve had constructive discussions with the Basin Authority about the neutrality test and will continue to work with them to develop a test that thoroughly considers the social and economic impacts of all water recovery projects,” Mr Watt said.
Mr Watt said all governments needed to put politics aside and work constructively for a bipartisan solution.
“The future of dairy in Northern Victoria is dependent on water security, and industry, farmers, and all sides of politics must work together to ensure its long-term survival.
Meanwhile, Victoria and NSW have released agreed socio-economic criteria to determine the requirements for any further water recovery under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Water Minister Lisa Neville said the government had consistently said Victoria would only support extra water recover, above the plan’s 2,750GL target, if it could be achieved without negatively impacting farmers and Basin communities.
“We’re ensuring any projects that seek to take further water away from our irrigation communities have a clear and transparent set of criteria to ensure that they do not negatively impact on Victorians,” Ms Neville said.
“Victorian irrigators have already done much of the heavy lifting when it comes to water recovery and we will not allow new projects to impact our regional communities, jobs and families they support.
“We remain focused on meeting our commitments under the Basin Plan in a way that minimises the impacts to Victorian communities and benefits the environment.”
The criteria were designed to ensure that any new projects that could contribute to additional water recovery must have neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes for Basin communities.
The criteria, agreed by the two states, require project applications to be public and that any project:
• Identifies potential impacts on the district and explains any benefits
• Does not directly increase the price of water
• Contributes to the current and future financial viability of irrigation districts
• Supports regional economies by not impacting on irrigation jobs now and in the future
• Does not have negative third-party impacts on the irrigation system, water market or communities
• Is supported by the community
• Identifies and improves social and environmental outcomes and does not negatively impact them
• Identifies, protects and improves Aboriginal values.
At the last Ministerial Council, the Victorian government secured agreement there would be no on-farm water recovery projects in the state, under the Federal Government’s current water recovery program, until the criteria were developed.
No impact test
The criteria follow last week’s release of what has been called a non-negotiable, no impact test for the 450 Gigalitres environmental “upwater”, developed by northern Victorian business and community leaders
“They promised no more water recovery if it caused more hardship but we’re still waiting to see the more robust impact test they promised, much less be consulted on it,” Goulburn Murray Irrigation District leadership group co-chair, Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed said.
“It is disappointing regional communities such as ours are forced to do the work of Government to demonstrate the harsh reality on the ground, but we will continue to fight to have our voices heard.”
The GMID Water Leadership group held a workshop to decide what ‘neutral’ impact meant for its community.
It was attended by water policy experts, regional stakeholders, community representatives, irrigators and members of the local agricultural supply chain.
The workshop came up with a test which called for the 450 GL ‘upwater’ program to undergo an independent, comprehensive and transparent cost-benefit analysis.
Workshop participants said the program must not be implemented if it did not pass that analysis.
The group also asked if “upwater’ projects would recover more water from the consumptive pool, or would increase prices or create distortions in the market.
“Will individual projects collectively result in adverse third-party impacts on other water users, enterprises and the broader community?” a statement from the group said.
“Will individual projects collectively result in adverse third-party impacts by transferring costs to the irrigated production supply chain?
“If any of the above can be answered as a ‘yes’, the project or proposal will have failed, and must be struck out or redesigned for re-evaluation.”
The community would not accept a narrow test, based on individual participation, that undermined the viability and prosperity of the GMID and played individuals and regions off against each other, group co-chair David McKenzie said.
“We expect Commonwealth bureaucrats to adhere to the spirit of the Basin ministers’ commitment to more realistic socio-economic criteria and stop running their own race to get more water regardless of the impact.”
The MDBA and the Federal Agriculture and Water Department have been contacted for comment.