National Farmers' Federation

Floods don’t mean water debate is ‘off the boil’

“WITHOUT farmers the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a pipedream,” came the blunt warning from National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie today. “It isn’t well understood but irrigated agriculture accounts for just 35% of water-use in the Basin – with 57% already going to the environment and around 8% for town water and other uses.
“More water for environmental assets may well be necessary, but the Murray-Darling Basin Authority hasn’t done the analysis to prioritise the 2,442 sites in the Basin or quantified how much water is needed to satisfy the key assets. That makes the Authority’s work to date way off the mark and the massive cuts being proposed (up to 90% for some farmers) arbitrary at best.
“Regional communities won’t accept what’s currently on the table. The reaction at regional meetings held across the Basin is testimony to that. But through new infrastructure to create water savings, environmental works projects, research and development and a transition period we can put in place a plan that gives irrigators, communities and the environment certainty.
“Recent downpours mean an influx of fresh water is coursing through the Murray-Darling river system, regional areas across the eastern states, including in the Basin, are blooming once more, species not seen in a decade have returned to breeding grounds and dams are filling or full.
“While the deluge has hit the high expectations for this crop for six, especially for those farmers still looking to get their crops off, after 10 years of the worst drought on record we’ll do what we always do and knuckle down to get through this.
“That doesn’t, in any way, downplay the natural disaster befalling many communities right now, but the longer view, in terms of river flows, dam storage and soil moisture levels, means there is a lot to look forward to.”
In fact, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, the Murray-Darling has just had its wettest year (January-October) since 1974, with September and October among the wettest on record. Even the Lower Lakes are now 92% full with more water on the way.
“Rather than stop reform in the Basin, these inflows highlight the need to set the Basin up for the long-term, and farmers and regional communities must be front-and-centre in that thinking,” Mr Laurie explained. “It was farmers, through the NFF, that called for reform through the National Water Initiative 10 years ago.
“Our resolve is unchanged, but the new water now in the system buys us time. What has been proposed by the Authority is has been rejected by communities, especially as there is no substance to back its proposed cuts. Basically, the MDBA needs to go back to the drawing board.
“I’ve made that case to senior levels in the federal government I have no doubt our position is well understood. Over the next couple of months I will be making sure that understanding translates into tangible changes.
“Accordingly, we will be making major submissions to the MDBA and the House of Representatives and Senate Inquiries into the Guide to the Basin Plan, due later this month, calling for the Guide to be radically redrawn to ensure its flawed findings do not perpetuate future policy failings.”

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