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Queensland irrigators « Previous | |Next »
August 21, 2008

So know we know what we'd always suspected about the lack of flow into the lower lakes of the River Murray this year. Queensland irrigators took record amounts of water from the Murray-Darling Basin over the past year, as other state governments wound back irrigator allocations to combat the worsening crisis in the system. And the Bligh Labor Government in Queensland supports Queensland's extraction of water on the grounds that their irrigators were simply taking advantage of the increased water supply and the ability to store water.

This is a state government that refuses to cap the water allocations in the state, effectively its nose at the rest of the Basin, and so sidesteps its Murray-Darling Basin commitments. The federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke acknowledges that Queensland irrigators are taking vast amounts of water out of the Murray-Darling river system.

So why no action? Why isn't the Federal's Government's $400m water buyback money being spent acquiring the water allocations of the Queensland irrigators? Why just more talk when properties are on the market?

What we have is this kind of talk by Burke:

The critical problem in the Murray-Darling basin is one that no government can easily fix. In an age of climate change and during a prolonged drought, we simply have less water in the basin....The nature of the water system is that the further south you go, the tougher people tend to be doing it, right through until you reach the end of the system in South Australia. So I can absolutely understand the frustration that so many farmers feel and the water that they know would produce a profitable crop in a properly irrigated area simply isn't available on zero allocations.That is the reason why we are looking at the buyback and why so much of it is geared towards the northern end of the system.

The use of climate change here is increasingly looking like a cover for inaction to address the overallocation of water licences in the Basin, and the failure to get a recalcitrant Queensland to sign up to the cap, introduce proper water management plans, and separate water licences from land titles.

Why only $400 million on buyback when $6 billion is spent on upgrading irrigator infrastructure. Why upgrade the infrastructure when many of the irrigators will have no water allocations due to less rainfall from climate change? Where is there no federal pressure on Queensland to act on its Murray-Darling Basin commitments?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:14 AM | | Comments (15)


The sad truth is the best place to take water for irrigation is upstream as you remove the river losses to get it from there to where it is used. Between Queensland and South Australian there is several thousand miles of desert.

Yes some irrigation areas have to be closed, but in reality they should be one's in South Australia, unfortunately things have got to the point where reality should take control.

why should the irrigation areas be closed in South Australia? Why cannot there be water trading so that the more efficient drip feed irrigators can buy the water from those who still flood irrigate?

Charles, many of the "losses" between Qld and the mouth are to groundwater, which sustains all kinds of plant and animal life (not just orange trees and wine grapes).

What irritates many of us in SA is that so much water is being used upstream to grow things like rice and cotton, or flood irrigate for wheat, on land that is otherwise only suitable for grazing cattle.

It's high time this came back to bite Qld and northern NSW. Qld especially has been stuffing everyone else around for years and they know it. The folks at Cubbie have relied on govt to protect their interests from anything that might happen downstream, but now we're talking federal, it's a different matter.

I can't see anything happening tomorrow, but eventually something has to give.

True, if you released the water now a lot of it would go to ground, but from there, everything else counts as river. One reason to be pessimistic though is that restored flows would pick up all the accumulated chemistry on the way down, asking for new horrors like blooms by the time it got where it was needed.

Nan why do you believe drip irrigation can't be used Queensland?

It's not what is that matters, it is what it should be. Yes Queensland should move to drip irrigation, the fact that they haven't invested yet doesn't in my view provide an argument for insisting the water go to SA.

I think there should be full water trading full stop, in my view it is the only way this mess will be sorted. However if your a South Australian farmer you should be careful what you wish for, most production will move up river where the price doesn't have to include the delivery loss incurred running the stuff through a thousand miles of desert.

I should add full water trading will give Adelaide the water it needs because it will be able to afford it, the lower lakes will get water if society is willing to pay and irrigation towns that depend on past deal will die. All but the best returning crops past Midura would be uneconomical.

The sooner we get full water trading and it all happens the better.

Great comments, Gary.
How narrow parochialism dominates this Queensland-dominated Rudd governemt is expressed indirectly in the egregious, despicable, Emerson attack on environmentalists the other day, in the OZ.
As for that custard-gutted wonder, Wong; Why hasn't she resigned in protest against this highway robbery, rather than directly participate in the unjust ruining of decent people down stream?

you miss the point in your defence of the poor struggling Queensland irrigators struggling to make a decent dollar. The talk of record extractions by the Queensland irrigators indicates that there is no cap on water extracted from the rivers. Queensland refuses to sign to the 1994 cap in the Basin, which was an attempt to limit the water extracted from the rivers to protect the rivers.

So Queensland is the classic free rider. Hence the anger. Queensland grabs all the water, which it sees it as its own water.

The frontier mentality is alive and well up here. The owners of the big stations like Cubbie are all on the boards of everything in town and there's something named after Russ Hinze or Joh anywhere big enough to be on the map.

We hand back land to Aborigines and roll out solar panels while we open more coal mines and build more dams. I pity Penny Wong having to deal with this place.

Downstream from Cubbie Station the Narran River is one of several watercourses that have been largely transformed into a series of waterholes since water diversions by Cubbie for their cotton have began.

Its a complex problem because if the entire system is opened up to the "market" then only those with heaps of cash will be able to afford to buy any water. And some, or even all of, their buying schemes (scams) will be essentially subsidized by us, the ordinary tax-payer, via the manipulation of the various tax and investment laws.

And sooner or later the water will all be controlled by the big boys alone. And we will thus see a further unsettling of rural Australia.

The big boys could be the likes of MacQuarie "bank" or overseas corporations. Even overseas governments as in the case of China where the line between "private" corporations and the government is very amorphous. Perhaps even by crime cartels.

What then will become of the public interest?


You have miss represented my point, I am not defending anyone. Queensland irrigators pay too little for water and that has to be fixed. If the government have to buy and sell stations to undo past contracts then that should be done. If governments can just put up the price then do it.

My point is, when everyone is paying what they should there will be no future for downstream farming unless the returns are exceptional. The water loses in delivery the resource are just to great.

Jumping up and down yelling nasty other state is not going to change reality. Things have to change, all users have to pay a price that reflects the value of the resource and the delivery costs.

I support the trading of water across the system because bullshit like this will be removed from the negotiations, the water will get used were it produces a return at whatever the market price is.

Though I am a South Australian living near the Murray Mouth, I too support a greater role for trading water, so that users pay a price that reflects the value of the resource and delivery cost. I accept that downstream irrigator need to have high value production to afford this--eg., the top end wineries in SA.

But the rules of the game are still rigged. The cap of water extraction needs to apply to all states in the Murray Darling Basin, no matter how water they take out and water trading must be allowed.

It is not a question of nasty states. Queensland refuses to signup to the basin cap and it has not separated water licences from property ownership. So there can be no water trading. Victoria blocks water trading to 6%.

The Age editorial says

But, in spite of the Government's recent pledge of tens of millions of dollars to buy water-rich properties, it has no plans to purchase Darling Farms, which has been for sale for four years, or, indeed, another nearby property. While farmers wait, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong compounds the issue by indicating the onus is on prospective sellers to make the first approach. What is going on?

What is going on re the buyback of the over-allocated water

Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water’s Ross Krebs, in comments to The Australian complained that run-off 'breaks out into floodplains or alternatively feeds into terminal wetlands resulting in a great loss of this water'.

That sums up the attitude of the Queenslanders -- water shouldn’t be ‘lost’ to the environment." And the Queensland Government -- regardless of political orientation -- simply doesn’t care about anyone downstream.