Give us certainty over water; irrigators

Irrigators call for greater certainty on water allocation and security

PLAN INQUIRY: Denliquin Poll Dorset stud operator Linda Fawns says any future inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be wide ranging.

PLAN INQUIRY: Denliquin Poll Dorset stud operator Linda Fawns says any future inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be wide ranging.


Federal election a fork in the road for irrigators, says Ricegrowers.


Any future Federal Government must ensure water certainty and security, according to Victorian and NSW irrigators.

Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said he was unsure why the Labor Party was attempting to remove the 1500Gigalitre buyback cap, while there was still 270billion litres of water available under it.

"You have to get four states and a territory to agree, and I don't know why they would want to go there," Mr Anderson said.

Labor's Water spokesman Tony Burke has said lifting the cap would remove restrictions on preventing water being returned, to the environment.

But Mr Anderson said a higher priority was giving irrigators certainty and proceeding with the Plan.

"They should get on with it," Mr Anderson said.

"Release the money to get on with the sustainable diversion limits

"A lot of them are ready to go, let's get the funding so that we can build them," Mr Anderson said.

Sustainable diversion limits are how much water, on average, can be used in the Basin by towns, communities, industry and farmers.

Victoria was on track to fulfil its obligations under the Plan and had its SDL projects, in place.

And Mr Anderson said an incoming Federal Government should also implement the key priorities, identified by the Productivity Commission.

"They don't have to adopt the recommendations, but it's a good assessment

"Any new government would be very wise to adopt them and start to implementing them."

The PC recommended basin states take responsibility for implementing the Plan, rather than the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which should be split in two.

It found that the implementation of the Plan had lacked transparency and candour, while it had been unclear who was responsible and accountable.

Fork in the road

NSW lobby group, the Ricegrowers' Association of Australia president Jeremy Morton, described Saturday's election as a fork in the road moment, for the government.

"They can continue down the pathway of ignorance or make the necessary changes in line with the much espoused adaptive management principles that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is allegedly built on," Mr Morton said.

The RGA called on the Coalition and Labor Party to redirect the $1.77billion, associated with the 450GL environmental up water, to a complementary measure program, to supercharge Murray-Darling Basin outcomes.

"The 450GL intends to force huge volumes of water down our rivers including doubling the releases from the Menindee Lakes where a million fish died earlier this year.

"Proceeding with the 450GL dramatically increases the chances of this tragic event occurring more regularly," Mr Morton said.

"The Murray, Murrumbidgee and Goulburn Rivers are already bursting at the seams with increased flows causing huge negative environmental impacts even before the 450GL is recovered.

"When we see what is happening in our rivers, including the Darling, how can anyone in their right mind possibly think that proceeding with the 450GL makes sense in any way, shape or form.

Koyuga prime lamb and crop producer Steve Snelson said his most significant concern was that a further 450GL of water would be taken and "sent out to sea.

"That will cripple the Victorian system; we have already given more than the lion's share of water," Mr Snelson said.

"We have to get back to taking speculators out of the market, which should be as transparent as the stock market."

He said the Coalition appeared to be more mindful of the needs of irrigators.

Mr Snelson blamed the Labor Party for decimating the industry in northern Victoria, last time it was in power.

But Kotta irrigator Andrew Christian said the election would allow the nation to move forward with a once in a lifetime opportunity, for social, economic and cultural sustainability.

Victoria had been recalcitrant in its attitude towards the Plan, with total disregard for the key outcomes that a well-governed system would provide.

"(Water Minister) Lisa Neville will need to put populist state politics to the side and embrace bipartisan support of the Plan and its intended outcomes," Mr Christian said.

No more inquiries

Linda Fawns is co-principal of Deniliquin's Saber Poll Dorset stud and said she was unsure any further inquiry into the Plan, such as a Royal Commission, was the best way to go.

"There's been inquiry after inquiry, report after report, there have been many issues already raised with the Basin Plan," Ms Fawns said.

"Governments have already got the information; I'd like to see them take some action."

If there was to be a Royal Commission, irrigators needed to have input into the terms of reference.

"I would like to see that it's all-encompassing, so it takes in the entire Basin Plan, not just the buybacks in the northern basin," Ms Fawns said.

"It has to be a good holistic view of the whole basin.

"Whoever sets the terms of reference that's what the Royal Commission will be guided by - that's what we have seen in the South Australian Royal Commission."

A future Federal Government needed to deliver on the triple bottom line, financial, social and environmental, which was initially promised.

CAUTION URGED: Morago prime lamb producer and rice grower Michael Hughes was one of several irrigators concerned about a future Federal Government seeking to claw back a further 450Gigalitres of water.

CAUTION URGED: Morago prime lamb producer and rice grower Michael Hughes was one of several irrigators concerned about a future Federal Government seeking to claw back a further 450Gigalitres of water.

Morago, NSW prime lamb and rice producer Michael Hughes advised any future Federal Government to fully understand all the components that made up the water market, trading and allocation processes.

While the Basin Plan was not delivering its intended outcomes, it was not the biggest issue facing Murray Valley irrigators.

"We have had zero allocation this year, but there is a fair bit of water that's been taken out of the resource pool," Mr Hughes said.

"SA has a fixed allocation each year - the more significant part of our issue is how much water is being consumed, at the bottom end. "

Mr Hughes said while the separation of land and water, leaving the market to determine its best use for water, had merit, the decision ignored the constraints and parameters within the system itself.

"To think we could see a quarter to half of the consumption water pool out of northern Victoria and southern NSW being consumed in SA is just not attainable, or achievable, without exceptional third-party impacts," he said.

Pause the Plan?

But he said a future Federal Government should be wary of calls to Pause the Plan.

"It was a voluntary process; it wasn't compulsory; it was an acquisition, it wasn't a take," he said.

"So we have seen a lot of capital injected into our part of the world, which I don't think can be ignored.

"If Pausing the Plan is what the overall community wants, sure, but I don't believe this is the silver bullet.

He said taking more water out of the consumptive pool would present a challenge to irrigators.

"Some of the end of system targets of the Plan are prescriptive and need reviewing."

Mr Hughes said he was also concerned about any future government seeking to claw back the further 450GL.

"I think 'Watergate' has highlighted the challenge with government buying water, and I think there is a lot more to it.

"If you look at the intent of what the purchase was, with overland flow, most people don't appreciate the difference between a regulated and unregulated flow.

"There are a lot of policies that don't exist, which could have protected that flow, which has been discussed or never been formulated or implemented."

Mr Hughes said the water that would have been extracted amounted to a "decommissioning of intent," and would have reduced the level of extraction, which would have been a plus.

Read more: Basin Plan a 'political football' in Watergate election stoush

"We have some big challenges ahead of us, the capital cost of water is putting a lot of pressure on irrigators," he said.

"A lot of people will continue to irrigate, but from a pure numbers perspective, it's going to be really hard to justify.

"Pausing any further acquisition, and trying to achieve whatever ecological outcomes they want with the water they have already got, would be a much better outcome."

Regardless of who won on Saturday, the new government needed to take the opportunity to set new policies.

"We are just picking up the crumbs, whatever is left over, regardless of what the policy might dictate.

"We need some more assurance and security going forward rather than the crumbs.

Class action

The calls come as the largest irrigator group in southern NSW threw a curveball into the election campaign, issuing a statement of claim in a class action on river operators for alleged mismanagement of water in the Murray Darling Basin.

Read more: Irrigators file $750M claim against MDBA

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks said a group of food producers in the NSW Murray Valley had joined forces because they believe the Murray Darling Basin Authority should be held accountable for the losses.

The group has filed a class action on behalf of food producers across NSW Murray and issued a claim against the MDBA for its alleged mismanagement of water in the Murray River system, which the group says left them on zero allocation.

"In early April the MDBA river manager Andrew Reynolds met with stakeholders in Deniliquin and told us that from June to January there were a massive amount of operational losses, in a year of extreme drought," Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said that for 141 days during spring and summer forests were unnaturally flooded as water spilled over the river's banks, while paddocks were bone dry and crop production came to a standstill because farmers in the NSW Murray were given no allocation.

Mr Brooks estimates that due to running the river above capacity, more than 800 gigalitres was lost resulting in our farmers not being able to produce crops.

"That is valuable income for not only our farming families but also all the businesses which support our farmers.

"It is transport companies, contractors, agricultural service providers, industry employees, small businesses and our entire communities who are impacted by loss of income."

"Our region is meant to be productive in years like we have seen; these are the years that our investment in efficient gravity feed irrigation systems pays dividends.

"Our region is meant to help be the solution to drought by producing."


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