'Cutting' Corners: farmers and pollies unite to slam ABC report

Four Corners' Murray Darling Basin report slammed by Sussan Ley, irrigators

Sussan Ley and Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks.

Sussan Ley and Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks.


"It's turned the urban public against irrigators, it's irresponsible."


Farmers and politicians have criticised an ABC report which claimed millions of dollars intended to restore the Murray-Darling Basin was instead being used by irrigators, including big corporations, to expand operations and use more water.

The Four Corners report examined the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program, designed to recover environmental water, wherein the Commonwealth gives farmers money to increase efficiencies through water-saving infrastructure in exchange for water rights.

Wakool farmer John Lolicato said he was "disgusted", claiming the program took a single issue out of context.

Mr Lolicato, who chairs Murray Valley Private Diverters, said farming communities had been struggling to survive under the basin plan, but rather than focusing on its "mismanagement" the program demonised irrigators.

"It's appalling, they focused on one issue without focusing on why people were going down that path," he said. "The guys on it were all very honest, and I think it was shown in a bad light.

"It's turned the urban public against irrigators, it's irresponsible. They could have gone the other way and shown the circumstance they're working under... people are being pushed to the edge.

"It's every man for themselves."

Member for Farrer and Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the program lacked balance.

"The Murray-Darling Basin Authority wasn't interviewed, the Commonwealth Environmental Waterholder wasn't interviewed, nor approached, ditto for MDBA.

"I think members for the Department of Agriculture might have been interviewed but they didn't make it onto the program, the office for the minister responsible, David Littleproud, was not approached," she said.

"That indicates, in my view, the level of imbalance in the program."

In a statement ABC said they sought an interview with Ms Ley as she "is responsible for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office" and the story was filmed in Farrer, but Ms Ley declined.

The statement went on to say "her spokesperson told Four Corners no one from the government would comment on the story", and that the agriculture department provided background briefings but no one was available for an on-camera interview.

Ms Ley disputed claims made in the program.

She said the plan was intended to recover water for the environment, with 2000Gl now held by the environmental waterholder.

"In my electorate, in fact in the basin as a whole, 20 per cent water that was previously used for irrigation has been recovered for environmental flows," she said.

Labor's Terri Butler called for the government to explain details of 72 payments worth more than $1 million each made under the program.

"The government needs to act. There are no jobs on a dead river," she said.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks said he was disappointed the program had a strong "environmental slant", while vice chair Darcy Hare said it painted irrigators in a "bad light".

He said it focused too much on areas where irrigation had increased, ignoring that across the entire basin irrigation had decreased.

This story first appeared in The Border Mail.


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