National Farmers' Federation

Statement on water buybacks

Comments attributable to Malcolm Holm, National Farmers’ Federation Water Committee Chair and southern NSW farmer

Farmers and communities have been blindsided by Minister Plibersek’s buybacks announcement. I suspect she might have also surprised her Ministerial Council colleagues by announcing this just 36 hours before they are scheduled to meet.

After the last Ministerial Council, we were advised that a draft would be released late last year for consultation prior to a February meeting, scheduled for tomorrow.

Instead, this has been dropped without consultation, without a strategic discussion at the Ministerial Council, and without any clear boundaries on the scope of these buybacks.

Reports are that these buybacks will not be used to progress the 450GL or 605GL recovery targets. However, it’s important this proposal doesn’t become a stalking horse to open up broader buybacks.

We need open consultation and transparency in decision making and we’re looking to Minister Plibersek to lead that approach.

We have recently written to water ministers seeking openness and transparency – both from the Ministerial Council and their advisory body the Basin Officials Committee.

After the last Ministerial Council four ministers wrote to us, none of them talked about the intention to move on the headroom acquisition, we only found out about that at November budget estimates.

We can’t have this lack of transparency when deals are being made that impact people’s livelihoods and communities.

If the Government was serious about the Murray-Darling Basin it would switch its simplistic and rushed focus from the 450GL recovery target to a smart and strategic approach and, importantly, be transparent with the people it impacts.

This is not a tick and flick exercise, we are talking about decisions that will have a serious impact on livelihoods, communities and food supply.

The southern basin produces 250 million litres of fresh milk for our supermarket shelves and this is not the time to put further pressure on Australian families who are struggling with the cost of living.

Even the Murray-Darling Basin Authority says irrigators have done the heavy lifting so far, so let’s look at what has been achieved with the approximately 2100 billion litres recovered so far. We need to pay more attention the other environmental issues plaguing the river systems, like the Mildura fish ladder, cold water pollution and eradicating carp. These are issues that aren’t simply solved by adding more water.