National Farmers' Federation

Farmers disgusted by yet another unbalanced water report by the ABC

Last night’s 4Corners program, failed to provide viewers a factual and balanced analysis of irrigation and water management in the Murray Darling Basin and continued a pattern by some parts of the ABC of misrepresenting rural and regional Australia and the complexities of the Plan.
“The management of the Murray Darling Basin is an issue of immense national importance,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
“Reckless and ill-informed reporting such as that aired last night, that picks and chooses facts, has the potential to be incredibly damaging for not only farmers, but communities and the environment.
“Not to mention doing a disservice to the intelligence of Australians, who expect informed and balanced reporting from what used to be one of our nation’s flagship investigative news programs.”
The episode included 13 spokespeople, 12 of which were critical of the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s irrigation efficiency program. The many hundreds of family farmers who are supportive of the program or community members who have benefited, were not represented.
The National Farmers’ Federation nor any of its member organisations, of whom this issue impacts, were invited to take part in a recorded interview for the program.
At no point during the 45 minutes of television was reference made to the fact that since 2012 the Plan had returned 2100 gigalitres of water to the river system with almost 700GL coming from efficiency and infrastructure projects. A significant achievement in itself. Or that the majority of efficiency projects, were not carried out by large corporate farms but family farming operations with works valued at, on average, less than $152,000.
Ms Simson said little to no focus was given to the fact that farmers were required to sell water entitlements to the Government, i.e. return water to the environment, in order to access the infrastructure efficiency program. Therefore providing a net water gain to the environment.
“And absolutely no mention was made of the tough scrutiny that applications to access the programs are subject to or the milestone reporting and random ‘spot checks’ that are carried out by the Australian National Audit Office.”
Ms Simson said the program also grossly misrepresented how the water trading system worked.
“There are no new water entitlements. When new dams are built or new crops are planted, water must be purchased from the market – in other words, from other farmers.
“And currently, because much of the Basin is in drought, there are no allocations available for farmers or the environment.”
Most insultingly presenter, Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop completely ignored the interests of regional communities – the men, women and children, for whom water management is critical to their everyday lives.
“It’s for these people, the irrigation efficiency program has provided jobs and a brighter future, which was exactly what the Plan was intended to achieve.”
Ms Simson said the NFF would be methodically working through the inaccuracies and errors pedalled in last night’s program and would register a formal complaint seeking corrections from the highest level within the ABC.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been through this process of unbalanced and misrepresentation, on the issue of agriculture and water management, with the ABC before.
“But, we simply won’t let representations like last night’s 4Corners go unchallenged. We will call out unbalanced and poor journalism and set the record straight for our farmers, our communities and ultimately the environment.
“And, if any members of the ABC’s reporting and investigative team, would like to become more informed about the intricacies of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, we stand ready to assist,” Ms Simson said.

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