Plan impacts on rice, mill’s job losses

By Southern Riverina News

Those who voted for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its water reforms need to take ownership of their decision and the subsequent negative impact it is having in basin communities, according to Jeremy Morton.

The Ricegrowers Association of Australia president made the remark in response to Thursday’s announcement of nearly 100 job losses at the Deniliquin rice mill.

SunRice has explained this is a consequence of the small rice crop in 2018/2019 due to low water availability and high water prices. Mr Morton said RGA does not believe it was not the intention of the Basin governments’ water reform agenda to destroy industries and the related communities, but it has undoubtedly played a role in this decision by SunRice.

‘‘While the drought is a significant factor, there is no doubt the Basin Plan is responsible for some of these people losing their job,’’ Mr Morton said.

‘‘All the evidence shows us that the reduction in the pool of productive water means less people with a job.

‘‘All those who voted for this reform in 2012 need to own this outcome.’’

Mr Morton said what is happening within the SunRice footprint should serve as a warning for the Water Ministers (MinCo) meeting this month to discuss the proposal to remove a further 450 gigalitres of water from the productive pool through the Basin Plan.

Before the SunRice announcement last week, RGA had made a submission to the Department of Agriculture and Water and Resources reiterating its long standing message that it does not support the recovery of an additional 450 gigalitres of water from productive use.

It says all water recovered from productive use results in negative social and economic impacts for basin communities, irrigators and industries, in particular due to the flow on effects of increased water prices.

‘‘A decision at MinCo to further reduce the amount of water available for producing food and fibre means more people without a job, fewer jobs across our entire community and the nation,’’ Mr Morton said.

‘‘That is the power of water, because without water we have nothing.

‘‘In our close Riverina communities this situation is very distressing, these are our family and friends who find themselves without a job.

‘‘The impacts flow through from the farms to the service and processing sectors.’’

The SunRice announcement of significant cuts to production in Deniliquin is expected to impact on a large portion of the 152 people are currently employed at the Deni mills.

There will be a four phase reduction in mill operations, starting on January 2.

From April, Deni’s ‘Mill 1’, which focuses on bulk rice, will cease production and go into maintenance and the ‘Mill 2’ structure will be cut back to part-time operation. Mill 2 is for short grain processing for the Japanese cuisine markets.

The ‘Mill 2’ operation will be further cut to a mere eight hours a day for only five days a week from the middle of next year.