People power starts to turn back the tide

By Sophie Baldwin

IT HAS been just on a week since thousands of southern basin irrigators, farmers and community members descended on Canberra to voice their anger and concern over the failings of the MurrayDarling Basin Plan.

Organisers declared the two-day rally a success, with MDBA interim inspector general Mick Keelty granted statutory powers to investigate the impact of changing the distribution of inflows (conveyance losses, dilution flows, Living Murray water) to the southern basin.

Organiser Darcy Hare said that announcement, combined with the merging of agriculture, water and environmental departments, will mean better co-operation and less withholding of information across departments in the future.

He also welcomed support from NSW Nationals Senator, Perin Davey, Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, and Member for Mallee, Anne Webster, to establish drought scenarios at which point the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) must release half of the water held in that region onto the water market for consumptive use during severe drought.

“This is what people power and pressure brings into politics,” Mr Hare said.

Chris Brooks said he wanted to clarify the group went to Canberra representing Victoria, NSW, Murray and Murrumbidgee.

“We negotiated a deal to secure volumes of water in the Murray River and all of those volumes of water we are wanting the inspector general to investigate are 50-50 owned by NSW and Victoria – it has never been a sell out from one state to other, it has always been about trying to access water that is being wasted and sent out to sea.”

On Wednesday Victorian Farmers Federation water council chair Richard Anderson issued a media release opposing any moves to give the inspector general powers to examine water sharing arrangements between the states, stating ‘it will create uncertainty and risk Victoria's water security’.

“Re-carving the way water is shared between the states will only lead to greater uncertainty and puts Victoria’s conservative policy towards allocating water in jeopardy,” Mr Anderson said.

“The interim inspector general role should focus on the very challenging job of ensuring basin plan compliance issues are addressed, particularly in the over-allocated northern basin.

“The Commonwealth must get on with the job of fixing the basin plan,” he said.

Mr Brooks said he was frustrated by the VFF comments and advocacy groups in general.

“This is further justification why farmers should get together and form their own water advocacy groups,” Mr Brooks said.

Caldwell hay and grain producer Dom Garden stood proud at the rally, shoulder to shoulder with other concerned community members of the southern basin.

“I wasn't just there as an irrigator, I was there representing our basin southern communities,” Mr Garden said.

“I want a future for my daughter and a future for my multi-generational family farm,” he said, adding he came away from the rally feeling positive, especially with the support shown from the non-farming community.

“We need to stand united across the southern basin to fight for an irrigation future to support strong and healthy rural communities now and we need to start by making sure the MDBA and river operators are held to account.

“We have a long way to go but I feel like the ship is slowly starting to be steered in a positive direction for everybody, including Victorian and NSW irrigators,” he said.

He said the past couple of years have been tough as his own family farming business has suffered, the rice industry has fallen and dairy is on its knees.

“We can't help it if there is an environmental drought but the MDBA river operations mismanagement, increased extraction from the northern basin and decreased inflows due to increased floodplain harvesting, are all eroding allocations in the southern basin, in similar low rainfall years we have always had an allocation – that’s part of the reason why our forefathers built dams.”