National Farmers' Federation

Government hits self-destruct button on Basin unity

Farmers have responded with dismay at the Government’s decision to reach prematurely for water buybacks, before alternative options have been considered.
National Farmers’ Federation President, Fiona Simson, said today’s announcement to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full with buybacks squarely on the agenda would be met with disbelief given the Government’s recent consultation.
“Just a few short weeks ago the Government sought and received over 100 submissions from stakeholders, outlining innovative and smart solutions to deliver the plan without the need for buybacks,” Ms Simson said.
“The NFF was just one of these groups that engaged in good faith – putting up over 1,000GL of buyback-free water recovery projects.
“The Minister has just admitted these are yet to be fully considered. To fire the starting gun on harmful buybacks while sitting on an unread stack of alternatives beggars belief.”
The Commonwealth has failed to bring Victoria into the new Basin agreement – ending more than 16 years of fragile cooperation around the Plan.
“Maintaining a degree of unity between the states and the Commonwealth has been a major achievement of the Plan to date. Today unity has been pushed to the wayside with what looks like a rushed and clumsy attempt to override states’ genuine concerns about buybacks.
“States have a right to stand up for their communities and say no to buybacks. Accepting buybacks shouldn’t be a precondition for amending the deadlines – that’s just politically conniving.
“Buybacks have hurt Basin communities in the past and they’ll inflict more pain if they start again.
“This isn’t just an issue for farmers. It’s a bill every Australian gets to pay not once, but twice – first as their taxes bankroll costly buybacks, then again when their grocery bill goes up.
“You cut production in our food bowl and everyone who eats foots the bill.”
Ms Simson called on the Opposition and members of the crossbench to hold the Government to account on this issue when legislation comes before Parliament.
“Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to wave any legislation though.
“Why has the Government ignored the alternative options it asked for? How much will this unnecessary spending spree cost the taxpayer? And what will be the impact on Basin communities, and do the socio-economic tests still stand?

“We also don’t want to see an end to bipartisanship. The Government should engage meaningfully with the Coalition to give communities confidence going forward.
“Farmers and communities deserve the chance to engage meaningfully before these laws that will affect them are passed. We look forward to engaging constructively and decisively to ensure their views are heard.”