Claims last week’s Murray-Darling Basin Minister’s meeting has delivered for NSW and Victorian irrigators have been with scepticism on both sides of the Murray River.
Ministers from the Murray-Darling states have agreed on a new test, meaning an additional 450Gigalitres of water can only be recovered for the environment, if it has positive or neutral socio-economic impacts.
“For the first time since Federation, all Basin states and the Commonwealth have agreed on the management of Murray Basin system,” Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said.
North of the Murray, NSW irrigators had a mixed reaction, with one saying it had been a waste of time.
Murray Valley Private Diverter’s chairman John Lolicato described the meeting as a “whitewash.”
“We got completely shafted, the Ministers said it was a big win, but that’s the biggest bit of propaganda that's ever come out.”
“NSW has been completely dudded, the minister has accepted on-farm projects, and we are going to fund investigations into South Australia’s southern Coorong.”
He said he was now disillusioned with the process.
“After six years of implemenation of the Basin Plan, community members have spent thousands of hours in trying to be engaged and drawn up many submissions, and none of them is being listened to,” he said.
A dozen reports had also backed up what people had been saying.
“Every one of those reports has backed up what people have been saying, this is a bad plan, and we need to change direction.
“The Murray Darling Basin Authority needs to be reviewed, we have lost 50 per cent of our water and 50 per cent of our employment,” Mr Lolicato said.
“MinCo has gone ahead and given the tick of approval to rip another 450GL out of the communities.
“This is taking us past breaking point, it’s a final nail in the coffin, and after all the back-slapping when the dust settles, and people realise what we are stuck with now, the reality of whether or not we will have a future in irrigated agriculture in a lot of these areas is coming to fruition.”
He said it was unlikely the 450Gl could be delivered.
“The channels of our rivers are virtually collapsing in front of our eyes, and we still have a blinkered view we can keep putting more and more water downstream and develop more and more land,” he said.
Speak Up 4 Water’s Garry Baker said it appeared to be a step in the right direction, so there was some cautious optimism.
“But we have suffered a lot from broken promises previously,” he said.
“What it doesn’t address at all is the social and economic damage that’s already been caused to our communities.
“We were promised communities would be protected, that was an absolute, written promise, that is not happening.”
He said the recent decision by SunRice to axe about 100 jobs from Deniliquin and Leeton mills, NSW, due to low water allocations and high prices, indicated the extent of the problem.
“To put that into perspective, that’s a higher percentage of our population than Geelong lost, when Ford closed, or that Elizabeth (SA) lost when Holden closed.
“Governments were prepared to pour millions upon millions of dollars, into those communities, yet we get ignored.”
And community member Tom Chesson said he had concerns about how the extra water was going to be delivered.
“On the surface, it appears regional communities have dodged a bullet,” Mr Chesson said.
“It will now be absolutely critical for the states to follow through and ensure it is socially and economically neutral and there are no dodgy deals done, in the future, where the Basin Plan is sold out on some political whim.”
There was a more favorable response, in Victoria, although doubts were still expressed about how the additional water would be delivered.
Goulburn River beef producer Jan Beer said she had the recovery of the additional 450Gl would be paused, due to the socio-economic and environmental impacts already caused by the recovery of the 2100Gl, until the Basin Plan was reviewed.
“It’s is now common knowledge that the environmental water already acquired cannot be delivered in the volumes proposed due to limited channel capacity, so it is incomprehensible that an additional 450GL should be deemed okay to be recovered,” Ms Beer said.
The test appeared to be comprehensive, with the Victorian Government solely responsible for assessing any projects in Victoria against the criteria test.
It would only submit projects to the Commonwealth that did not have a negative impact.
“It is a relief to have the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Federal Dept Agriculture and Water Resources removed from this decision making, as people have lost faith with them,” Ms Beer said.
Independent Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said she was pleased a robust test was now in place,
She said there appeared to be an acknowledgment of the hurt that had been felt by communities, which was important.
“We can go away feeling we have been heard, at least on the upwater and the 450Gl, because the last 12 months have caused so much concern in our communities, ”Ms Sheed said.
“I think it is conceivable the full 450Gl may not be recovered, because it's too expensive and there will be negative impacts,” she said.
Governments must now take a closer look at what could be done and what it would cost.
“The Federal Government, at the end of the day, has to decide what it’s going to spend, to achieve that outcome.”