National Farmers' Federation

Water Bill a recipe for hurt, division and higher food prices

Farmers are warning that a bill introduced today by Water Minister Tanya Plibersek would obliterate consensus on the Basin Plan and give the Government unchecked power to shut down irrigation farms in Australia’s food bowl.

NFF Chief Executive Tony Mahar said the proposal would blow up the Basin Plan and destroy trust and livelihoods in Basin communities.

“Successive governments have managed to maintain a fragile consensus on the Basin Plan across party lines and between the states and territories. This Bill will blow up that consensus for a cheap political win.

“The Plan that was brokered a decade ago included clear limits on the harm that could be inflicted on Basin towns. Government ministers stood in these communities and made promises about those limits.

“Farming communities went along with the Plan and suffered the pain of buybacks based on those promises. Now this bill seeks to tear them up.”

Mr Mahar said the hundreds of pages of the bill boiled down to one simple change.

“What this bill does is remove every last limit on the Government’s power to shut down farms. It allows the Minister to shut down as many farms as she wants, to destroy as many jobs as she wants, and to spend as much as she wants in the process.

“It’s a blank cheque Parliament would be mad to sign.”

The NFF challenged the Water Minister and parliamentarians to leave Sydney and Canberra and have an honest conversation with communities about this proposal.

“Before anyone votes on this, go to Deniliquin, go to Stanhope, go to Shepparton. Look these people in the eye like you did when you made them these promises you’re now tearing up.

“Talk to the workers on the production line at fruit, rice or dairy processors along the Murray. See what they think will happen to their jobs when local farms are shut down.”

Mr Mahar said the most stinging insult remained the fact that the Minister continues to sit on alternative projects that the Government had sought.

“She’s asking Parliament to green light unfettered buybacks, but she hasn’t done the homework on available alternatives.

“We’ve given her proposals that would allow us to meet the plan by growing more food with less water. Instead, she’s asking to spend unspecified billions shutting down food production and killing jobs. 

“It’s unbelievably insulting – not just to farmers, but to the Parliamentarians whose vote she’s seeking.”

“The Minister claims to have some secret kitty for community structural adjustment for impacted communities.

“Instead of nicely painted silos and new amenity blocks, why not direct that money to environmental solutions like fish ladders or carp eradication that the NSW Chief Scientist says are critical to improve the health of the river. 

“We should be marking our success on environmental outcomes, not politics.

The NFF also warned that shutting down farms would have a predictable impact on food and grocery prices and certainty of supply.

“We’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis with food inflation still running at 7.5%. 

“What does the Government think will happen when it starts shutting down farms and jeopardising local food manufacturing? It’s showing complete disregard for the challenges facing ordinary Australians.”

Mr Mahar said the NFF would fight on behalf of communities and common sense to oppose the Bill in its current form. 

“While we recognise the sensible extension of the timelines embedded in the Bill, this shouldn’t be tied to a political agenda on buybacks.

“I want to reassure Basin communities that we’re in this fight. We see this Bill for all of its cheap, lazy politics and will continue to fight for a better outcome.”