National Farmers' Federation

Statement by NFF President Fiona Simson on the Murray Darling Basin Plan

The National Farmers Federation shares many of the concerns being expressed by farmers rallying in Canberra tomorrow in relation to the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
We have continued to advocate, increasingly stridently, for changes and reforms to the way the Plan is being implemented and welcome the support from farmers also seeking to improve the Plan.
In this context we have continued to demand the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council take serious steps to implement the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s five-yearly review of the Plan. The time for real action on these measures is past due. The NFF has a clear policy development process in place – it is by farmers for farmers and that policy seeks to get the Plan fixed now.
Not having a plan is a complex proposal. Even without it there would continue to be an intergovernmental agreement on water distribution; there would continue to be environmental water; there would continue to be competition in the water market and the status of the drought would remain uninfluenced.
No plan is not the answer to this very complex challenge.
The NFF recently visited farmers in the southern basin. We heard a range of concerns that included, but were not limited to, scrapping the Plan. The overwhelming consensus from those we spoke to was that the Plan needed to be fixed and fixed now. The NFF is in emphatic agreement with this view.
The Plan needs work and there are existing and ongoing measures identified to do that. Basin governments must take action on these measures now.
The Ministerial Council meets next month. Those around the table need to come prepared to implement an action plan to fix the known problems. The priorities from the NFF’s perspective are:
– Immediately progressing the implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations;
– Ceasing to try to acquire the 450GL on farm, and ensure that there is no further impact on the consumptive pool from these measures and in any case ensure that there are positive socio-economic outcomes;
– Getting on with the job of effective consultation on 605GL measures. Projects must have community support. If they don’t they must be adjusted to earn support or, failing that, another pathway to meet the goal must be pursued. Agriculture is very aware that a failure to deliver a supported set of projects has consequences for the consumptive pool and we cannot tolerate any further losses, especially in the current environment;
– Ensuring that appropriate powers and adequate resources are provided to the Basin Inspector-General to allow the role to do its job without obstruction – similar to those of a Royal Commission, this means all stakeholders need to be able to be accountable, whether individual, corporation or jurisdiction. This will require agreement to appropriate legislative provisions;
– Working together, rather than against each other for the benefit of the farmers and communities across the Basin; and
– Recognising and accepting that quick and considered responses to outcomes of the ACCC water markets and the Sefton socio-economic reports will need to be made urgently.
Petulance and division from the jurisdictions must be set aside. The role of all governments is to take their seat at the table seriously and to effectively address the issues.
People are hurting, in many different ways and from many causes. The NFF remains committed to work with our members and the industry to identify areas of improvement which will benefit the farm sector. We believe governments and industry need to work together to fix these problems. No one government alone can solve the problems. Equally any government threatening to walk away will not achieve anything positive. A collaborative considered and consistent approach to these very real issues must be adopted and done so now.

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