Victorian Farmers Federation Water council chairman Richard Anderson says he’s concerned the Federal government appears to be “steaming ahead” with plans to recover an additional 450 gigalitres of water, as part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Mr Anderson said the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources public consultations on additional socioeconomic criteria for on-farm projects across northern Victoria led to a high turnout of representatives from dairy, horticulture, rice and manufacturing from Victoria and New South Wales.
“The large turnout of farmers from both sides of the Murray River demonstrated the high level of concern about recovering more water through on-farm projects,” Mr Anderson said.’
Under the Plan, delivering the additional 450 gigalitres is dependent upon the water being recovered with neutral or positive socioeconomic impacts.
Fed Dept Agriculture+Water Resources might have a tin ear but seems @D_LittleproudMP is listening. DAWR has to extend 450 GL consultation and go back to communities it short-changed. #basinplan#auspol @Damiandrumnat @LisanevilleMP https://t.co/2hdxbv6S1Q— #fairflow (@gmidleadership) October 26, 2018
The Murray-Darling Ministerial Council agreed to develop additional program criteria, to ensure neutral or beneficial socio-economic outcomes for on-farm infrastructure, at its June meeting.
Mr Anderson said despite the very short notice, and with many farmers in the middle of hay season, large numbers turned out to voice their concerns on how the development and application of the socioeconomic test.
“We have been telling the Commonwealth for many years now that reducing the consumptive pool is damaging our communities. Even data published by the Murray Darling Basin Authority shows over 5000 jobs have been lost in Victoria alone,” Mr Anderson said.
“When asked about the distribution of where the additional 450 gigalitres would come from, the Commonwealth confirmed 400 gigalitres would come from the Southern Basin.
“Our messages are clear; getting the extra 450GL through on-farm efficiency measures will reduce the consumptive pool, drive up the price of water and flood communities when they attempt to deliver it.
“We believe one gigalitre for on-farm projects anywhere in the southern basin would hurt communities, let alone 400 gigalitres.”
We believe one gigalitre for on-farm projects anywhere in the southern basin would hurt communities, let alone 400 gigalitres.
Overwhelmingly, farmers emphasised that participating in previous on-farm projects requiring the transfer of water to the Commonwealth had hurt their businesses.
They indicated they were now more reliant on the temporary water.
“Rather than trying to assess the community and cumulative impact of water recovery project by project, the whole 450 gigalitres needs to be subjected to a test to see if communities can take any further recovery,” he said.
“Our regions are at a tipping point, our industries are most vulnerable due to dry conditions and taking more water from farmers will only hurt communities. Will the Commonwealth listen this time?” said Mr Anderson.
Meanwhile, the Federal government has extended the consultation time for the neutrality test criteria.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said some communities visited during the initial stage of consultation have complained of short notice, not being informed, or of the address for the venue not being published on the web.
Mr Littleproud said that was disappointing and he had ordered the Department to go back again, where communities felt they hadn't been heard.
“I’m not surprised complaints were received about this,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Getting this neutrality test right is vital to the Basin Plan. We need to be dead sure there are no negative impacts from water recovery.
“That means we need to hear from everyone we can.
He said it was unreasonable to assume people could drop everything to attend, at short notice.
“It’s reasonable to think the address of the venue would be on a website where residents could see it.
“Communities need to have confidence in the neutrality test currently being consulted on. This means they need to know they’ve been heard.
Consultations have been extended by two weeks, until Friday, November 23.
“If communities want the Department of Agriculture to come back for further discussion, the Department of Agriculture will arrange additional meetings.
“Basin Water Ministers need to know what Basin communities think before decisions are made.”
Future consultation venues will be displayed online, and more notice will be given to local communities.
Giving longer notice of consultations had been difficult for the Department given the need for discussion and agreement with states on the proposed on-farm test before beginning.