Minister aims to limit impact

By Alana Christensen

Federal Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud has moved to calm concerns over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, calling on all parties to ‘‘take a leap of faith’’.

Hosting a public forum alongside Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum in Shepparton last Wednesday, Mr Littleproud told the 150-strong crowd there was more work to be done on the plan.

The controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’ was the ‘‘elephant in the room’’ according to many attendees who voiced concerns about the effect water recovery will have on the region.

‘‘The easiest thing for me is to sit here, look you in the eye and say ‘yeah, I’m going to stick it into them (the other states) as well’ but there’s no point. I can’t change (the plan). I’ve just got to get on and try and limit the impact,’’ Mr Littleproud told the crowd.

All basin states and the Federal Government are currently working on a neutrality test as part of the 450Gl, to determine how the socio-economic effects of potential projects should be assessed, which will be discussed at a Ministerial Council meeting on December 14.

Victoria and NSW have already outlined their suggestions for the test, including identifying potential impacts on regions and explaining any benefits, ensuring it does not directly increase the price of water, does not impact irrigation jobs, and contributes to the current and future financial viability of irrigation districts.

Mr Littleproud said he intended to respect the requirements of the legislation, including the clause that states the 450Gl cannot be delivered unless it has neutral or positive socio-economic effects.

‘‘The neutrality test is important, it has to be respected ... We intend to respect those guidelines,’’ he said.

‘‘(The plan) is not perfect, there’s no way it’s perfect ... But I’ve got to make sure I don’t cause any more impact.

‘‘(If we can’t make the plan work) they’ll come back with a five or six thousand (Gl) plan ... this is the insanity that’s there.’’

Mr Drum said the plan replaced ‘‘absolute chaos’’. He agreed that although ‘‘not perfect’’ the plan must be worked with.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair and State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said there must be a broad and thorough test applied to any water to be retrieved for the 450Gl.

‘‘The best thing you could do for us ... is guarantee that if there is any negative impacts across our towns ... that no water towards the 450 will be taken from us,’’ Ms Sheed said to applause from the crowd.

Mr Littleproud said there must be faith.

‘‘The problem with the plan is there hasn’t been trust. We have to take a leap of faith,’’ he said.

Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers said although it was good to see Mr Littleproud make the effort to come to the region, there was still a great deal of uncertainty around the basin plan.

‘‘I think the region still has a lot more work to do in convincing the Commonwealth of the actual tipping point the GMID is facing,’’ Ms Akers said.