National Farmers' Federation

Towns rally to shout NO to Government’s Water Buyback legislation

Basin communities on the frontline of the Government’s rewrite of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will protest today with one clear message: NO more water buybacks from farmers – there is a better way.

Workers in farming, food processing, small businesses and local government will walk off the job to rally today in Leeton, Griffith and Deniliquin, demanding that the Government instead embraces the many options to improve river health without killing jobs and hollowing out Basin communities. 

The Water Amendment (Recovering Our Rivers) Bill 2023 now before the Senate is a complete and unnecessary rewrite of the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan that had bipartisan and Basin State support, and that communities understood to be the limits of socioeconomic impact. 

This new ‘Plan’ instead abandons socioeconomic safeguards and expands buybacks without any consideration for Basin communities still struggling to recover from the impacts of water buybacks more than a decade ago.

Former ALP Water Minister Tony Burke knew in 2012 that buybacks caused hardship for communities and so he explicitly ruled them out for the additional 450 GL of water acquisition. 

Nothing has changed since then, except a new ALP Water Minister who will not listen to, much less visit, impacted communities across the Basin with bitter lived experience of the impacts of past water recovery and successive Governments’ failure to make good on promised structural adjustment. 

The Government’s own agency, ABARES, advises that recovering another 450 GL from farmers will drive water prices too high too often for most farmers to stay in business. The impacts will ripple through communities with jobs lost in regional food and fibre processing, their service industries and their small businesses. 

The Productivity Commission also recently warned that in the absence of a plan for water recovery that includes all options, including those suggested by industry and communities,  the Government risks being seen as just chasing a volumetric target detached from environmental outcomes. 

Quotes attributable to NFF President David Jochinke 

People in these towns are furious, and they have every right to be. The Government is tearing up the deal it struck with them and nobody has fronted up to talk to them about it. 

They’re making their voices heard today and the Government needs to listen. The Government’s approach so far has been lazy and divisive. Their tunnel vision on buybacks means we’re overlooking smarter ways to achieve a healthy river. 

Quotes attributable to NIC Chair Jeremy Morton 

We have seen firsthand communities that have been decimated by previous water buybacks and not recovered. It is extremely disheartening to see the Government try and ignore these peoples lived experience.  

The Government needs to listen to the people who will be hurt by their policies. Buybacks cannot be supported and socioeconomic protections must remain in place when it comes to water recovery. 

Quotes attributable to NSWIC CEO Claire Miller

Basin communities have already been there with past buybacks, so they already know how this will end badly for their towns and people.

It’s time for the Senate to step up and do what the Government seems incapable of doing: listening and supporting a pathway forward that delivers healthier rivers without gutting communities. 

The people directly affected by these decisions must be given a voice and they must be heard.  

Quotes attributable to NSWFA President Xavier Martin

Farmers are the backbone of their communities and the extent of these protests show how much support there is for the industry.

Without the economic activity generated by farmers, the whole community suffers. The Government needs to wake up and listen to these voices before jamming through a policy that will see their livelihoods torn apart and food prices driven even higher.  

All three rallies will take place today from 12 noon to 1pm.

Leeton rally

WHO: Mayor Tony Reneker, local business, community and farming representatives.

WHERE: Mountford Park, Leeton

Griffith rally

WHO: Mayor Doug Curran, Helen Dalton MP, Cr Glen Andreazza, Griffith Business Chamber President John Nikolic, Teneeka Andreazza and NFF CEO Tony Mahar.

WHERE: Memorial Park, Banna Avenue, Griffith

Deniliquin rally

WHO: Mayor Cr Peta Betts, Senator Perrin Davey, local farmers, business operators and workers.

WHERE: Multi Arts Centre Precinct, Cressy St, DeniliquinNOTE TO EDITORS: Vision and images from the Griffith rally will be available from 2pm AEDT.