National Farmers' Federation

Guide to the Basin Plan: “Simply doesn’t hold water”

“DESPITE the ‘softening up’ of yesterday’s leaks, today’s numbers are worse than anyone expected and the Federal Government must intervene to resurrect public confidence,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie declared following the release of the guide to the Basin Plan today.
“If the bureaucrats at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) get their way Basin areas could see water cuts more than 37% for the Murray, 43% for the Murrumbidgee and 37% for the Gwydir in NSW; 45% in the Ovens, Loddon and Campaspe in Victoria; 35% in the SA Murray and in Queensland 45% in the Nebine, Moonie and Warrego with 39% for the Condamine Balonne.
“Australian food grown fresh for Australian consumers will take a massive hit and Australian families will have to get used to paying more and relying more on imports. In the process, thousands of jobs will be shed, inflicting immense direct pain on regional communities.
“Around 93% of all food we consume in this country is grown here and 40% of all the food we produce as a nation comes from the Basin. Agricultural production and environmental needs are not mutually exclusive, they can and need to be balanced, but the MDBA has made no attempt to do so.
“Today’s guide is half-baked. The Authority hasn’t examined engineering options or water-saving technologies to give more water to environmental needs that could minimize water cuts for food production and regional communities.
“The MDBA needs to have done that vital analysis, exhausting all water-saving and water-sharing options, before even considering wholesale cuts. The approach it has taken is unacceptable.
“As feared, the MDBA has only used some environmental water (around 705 GL), with the remaining environmental water quarantined… meaning it is not included in the final wash up. This exposes a lack of goodwill from the Authority in balancing environmental, farm production and community needs. All water in the Basin must be accounted for if the MDBA is to be taken seriously.
“What the MDBA has done is opt for an easy path, a simplistic accounting construct based on traditional river flows. We have to be smarter than that. As an example, water for wetlands may be delivered via pumps – negating the need for higher river-flow volumes – and, thereby, irrigation water may need little or no cut.
“What emerges today is the need for the Federal Government – namely Water Minister Tony Burke and Regional Development Minister Simon Crean – to wrest back control and for the Authority to go back to the drawing board and recalculate these numbers based on the smart options we have repeatedly called for.
“At the NFF’s National Congress in Melbourne in September this year, Minister Burke pledged a Labor Government to strategically exploring food production issues, saying…
“It means looking at food production versus mining, versus the environment, versus forestry and versus urban encroachment. None of it is easy, but we’re going to need an extraordinary increase in food production over the next 40 years. It’s madness if we don’t think these issues through nationally.”
“If we’re to get anything vaguely approximating a sensible approach to balancing these needs in an era of food shortages, both Ministers need to intervene and the MDBA’s needs to start again.”

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