The Federal Government has inadvertently revealed that damaging water buybacks will make up at least a third of water recovery under its revised Murray Darling Basin Plan, at a starting price exceeding $3 billion.
The startling revelation that government buyback spending could double under this proposal comes as serious questions emerge about how the Government will balance socio-economic impacts, and whether alternate proposals sought by the Government will be assessed before changes are brought before Parliament.
National Farmers’ Federation Water Committee Chair, Malcolm Holm, said that in signalling a change to the legislative cap on buybacks, Minister Plibersek had shown her hand.
“The Minister has said last week the current 1500GL cap on buybacks will be lifted.
“Currently, they still have around 225GL of headroom under the cap, and a gap of 750GL to complete the plan. So by lifting the cap, the Minister is saying buybacks will exceed one third of remaining recovery.
“To launch headlong into buybacks of that scale would be devastating. Those caps and protections were put in place for a reason – based on the maximum volume of buybacks communities could withstand.”
Meanwhile, Mr Holm said the admission that responses to a recent consultation had not yet been considered had left communities furious.
“The fact that buybacks are the focus when the Minister has over 1,000GL of buyback-free options sitting unread on her desk is a complete disgrace. The Minister is signing the death warrant for these towns and she hasn’t even reviewed the alternatives.
“Communities have done what the Government has asked here – they have done the legwork to give the Minister options. Instead of acting in good faith and in a transparent way the Government is demonstrating it doesn’t care about farmers or communities.
“Those options should be given the time of day before blowing up the Plan and spending billions shutting down farms.”
Mr Holm said he remained hopeful that Parliament would force accountability and demand answers to important questions.
“As it stands, Minister Plibersek is asking the Parliament to sign a blank cheque to shut down farms. We think the cost to taxpayers will have to exceed $3 billion, but that’s just our estimate. We’re left guessing because there’s no transparency.
“Both the Parliament and the community deserve better. They ought to have clarity on the extent of buybacks proposed, how socio-economic impacts will be considered, and what engagement will occur to give communities a voice in this process.”
The NFF has written to Minister Plibersek posing 13 initial questions that now need answering in the wake of the Government’s initial announcement.
“There are a lot of gaps in information at the moment. That makes communities nervous, it makes food processors nervous, and it makes people who work in our industries fear for their jobs.
“When state governments start leaving the table or participating conditionally based on community concerns, you know what’s been agreed is a bad deal. The question now is how bad, and can the Parliament step in to correct the course?
“We all want to see the plan complete, but we have a choice in how to get there. We want to see it done the smart way that delivers the water needed without taking food off the table in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis,” Mr Holm concluded.