The deal agreed to at today’s Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting has been hailed as a breakthrough by Australia’s peak dairy advocacy body Australian Dairy Industry Council.
The council said it had been fighting for a robust and transparent socio-economic test that would provide positive — or at the very least neutral — benefits to basin communities.
The council’s water taskforce chair and Katunga farmer Daryl Hoey said they were relieved and grateful that the ministers agreed to a socio-economic test that was fair for all farmers because, as the situation now stood, local dairy-dependent communities could not tolerate more water and job losses.
He said the Murray-Darling Basin was home to about 1405 dairy farms, representing more than 1.8billion litres, about 20 per cent of Australia’s total milk pool.
Data released last year by Murray-Darling Basin Authority revealed job losses in basin communities of up to 40 per cent in agriculture, and up to 60 per cent in irrigation employment in some regions.
The ADIC urged, in a submission to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ consultation on efficiency projects, for a new socio-economic test to include a cost-benefit analysis and consideration of any future effects on communities.
‘‘The Australian dairy industry is our third-biggest agricultural industry, worth $4.3billion at the farm gate, and we must cautiously assess the potential effects on farmers and broader basin communities,’’ Mr Hoey said.
Basin ministers also agreed to an extra $132million for southern states to deliver 605Gl of ‘down-water’ projects and to allow more time for states to conduct community consultations, in line with a request from ADIC.
‘‘There is a great degree of difficulty associated with assessing the impacts of projects on the viability of the connected irrigation system in the southern basin,’’ Mr Hoey said.
‘‘It is necessary to review the original timeframe to accommodate the delivery of constraints projects.’’