FOOD producers in the NSW Murray region have welcomed calls for legislative amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan from Member for Farrer Sussan Ley.
Ms Ley told Federal Parliament last week that the proposed 450 gigalitres of additional ‘up-water’ should be paused and no further work should be done in anticipation of increased flows ‘‘unless and until we see that it is needed and it can be delivered’’.
She will call for an amendment for the basin plan to lock in a cap on recovered water of 2100 gigalitres.
Ms Ley added she would ‘‘be writing to the minister (for water Barnaby Joyce) and the MDBA recommending further discussions at ministerial council level about these two important legislative amendments’’.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle said hard-working food producers who are trying to transition Australia from a ‘mining boom’ to a ‘dining boom’ support Ms Ley’s stance.
She told parliament ‘‘we are at tipping point with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’’ and ‘‘there is a crisis of confidence in the communities I represent’’.
Mr Pyle agreed, adding it is time for action to rebuild confidence and protect rural communities.
Ms Ley explained to parliament that under the basin plan ‘‘we are in the process of finalising the projects that will provide 650 gigalitres of offsets to bridge the gap between the total diversion limit of 2750 gigalitres and that water that has been brought back already’’.
Mr Pyle said these projects have to involve sensible and realistic decisions which include complementary measures such as fish ways and carp control, explaining that hydrology alone will not deliver environmental outcomes.
Ms Ley also told parliament that the “450 gigalitres (up-water) can only be recovered through on-farm efficiency measures and there is a socio-economic neutrality test, but these safeguards are insufficient.
“The cost is that producers have to give up water to the environment in return for the upgrades” and “often their farm program cannot continue unless they purchase temporary water every growing season. The price of this water is something that cannot be forecast … what this means is that sometimes it makes no economic sense to grow anything at all, so the expensive irrigation systems are underused.”
While Mr Pyle believes that the 450GL should be off the table altogether as the volumes are undeliverable, he said it appears there is very slowly, and very surely, an increasing recognition of the folly around the basin plan.
“Ms Ley and some of her parliamentary colleagues are recognising that we have no structure around water that has been recovered for environmental flows ... It would be refreshing to see a change that is genuine about seeking the balanced social, economic and environmental outcomes that all political parties initially promised with the basin plan,” Mr Pyle said.