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Murray-Darling Basin reform: its war « Previous | |Next »
October 27, 2010

The Canberra Press Gallery are saying that the Gillard Government is not managing the reforms to the Murray- Darling Basin well.

We are being informed that the revolt in the streets is due to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority guide supposedly placing all the emphasis on restoring water to the environment and ignoring the social and economic consequences of water reform on regional communities. By not taking into account the devastating impact water reform has on local towns and farmers, the Murray-Darling Basin Report will turn towns into ghost towns.


Tosh. There is a concerted political campaign being conducted by the irrigators---eg., the National Irrigators Council to prevent water reform to reduce the over allocation of water licences. That campaign is led by the NSW Irrigators Council ----the irrigators have declared war on the Gillard Government, just like the miners did, and they are using similar astroturf tactics. This is a campaign based on deception and fear--from foodbowl to dustbowl.

The signs in this Mildura meeting say that the (lack of) river flow is caused by drought not farmers. Therefore, no water should be taken from irrigators.

What the authority has been doing is figuring out the environmental requirements of the river system first and then looking at how to minimise the social and economic impacts of having less water for farm use. Returning to the river system at least the minimum amount of water needed for ecological health was supposed to be the point of this long and supposedly independent process.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:59 PM | | Comments (14)


The concerns of irrigators do not fully reflect the views of the whole community in the Murray Darling Basin There are differences--many think that too much water is going to irrigators and that water allocations should be cut back.

The irrigators cover up the differences in order to identity their interests with those of the basin community.

I can't agree. Irrigators don't have a great deal to lose, both major parties have said they'll buy what they need. As an irrigator I do need a community, I need a labour pool, equipment and fertiliser suppliers. I don't want to wait three weeks for my kids to see a doctor, and I don't want our local school to close because 75% of the students come from irrigated enterprises.(15 students total).

What is most important is the science, or the lack of it in the plan. I've been through a fair proportion of it now and to say it is wishy washy would be a compliment.
"All will be revealed in vol 2" said the MDBA and while they've listed their resources it's a battle to work out what they've got from where. If this is transparency I'd hate them to be secretive.

It may well be war, war against a plan written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats to whom the value of our rural lives is a mere statistic. I think the Authority got the message at the meetings, I think the Gillard govt got the message from the press - Don't undervalue rural people and the lives they live.
Magic proportions of "end of stream flow" are too convienient. Let's see what our environmental assets really need and deliver that water efficiently and intelligently.

Senator BIll Heffernan acknowledges that the water allocations in the basin are seriously over-allocated, whilst the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resources Economics (not known for its green creditionals) says that there will be a 3% by 2020 decline in runoff in the basin.

Whichever way you look at it there has to be structural adjustment. The future of the basin communities lies in making this adjustment and becoming more skilled and being cleverer in the way they earn money.

judging by his performance at the Mildura meeting Senator Barnaby Joyce is only interested in politically exploiting the anger and hysteria in the basin communities over the finger being pointed at the consequences of their bad irrigation practices. He clearly wants the Coalition to 'amend' the Water Act they introduced so that it favours irrigator's interests.

re your comment: "don't undervalue rural people and the lives they live."

Tough reform was proposed and advocated by farmers (NFF) and irrigators re reducing tariffs etc during the 1990s. These changes had a big impact on (car and textile) manufacturing and the waterfront and many workers were displaced. They--the farmers (NFF) and irrigators-- had little sympathy for the value of urban lives---these were a mere statistic as they argued about the on-costs of tariffs that made them uncompetitive in world markets.

When it comes to cutting water allocations the NFF and the irrigators are opposed to, and resist, tough economic reform, and they demand to be over-compensated.

They have a credibility problem--a big one. They have a very poor image in the capital cities.

Barnaby Joyce is primarily concerned with looking after the interests of northern Queensland irrigators. Everybody else come second.

and not just Barnaby Joyce. Bob Katter and Liberal MP Patrick Seeker (in SA) are planning to pursue legislation which would allow Parliament to stop the government buying water from irrigators if the social and economic costs are too high.

Since the water buy backs are voluntary--between willing buyers and sellers-- these two are opposed to the market.

Patrick Secker, MP for Barker in SA, has a long history of opposing water to be returned to the river to help restore the health of the environment. He defends Riverland irrigator's interests

I saw the footage of Barnaby at the Mildura meeting bravely rousing the troops.

If only there had of been one heckler in the room to ask him why, if he is so pissed off with the process, he voted for it in the first place?

Methinks his face would have gone even more red.

Gary, again you are focusing on farmers and irrigators. Our communities are made up of teachers, nurses. accountants etc. etc. etc. There are about a 100 irrigators in my township of 10000. They are a small proportion.

The reaction to the Plan isn't opposition to returning water to the river, it's returning water with scant regard for peoples lives and the rural economy. A volume 2 to 3 times that required in 2007 when the Act was composed.
Volumes that at this stage have no specifics as to the science behind them.
Why is 12500GL flowing out to sea more important than 9000GL? Why does govt need it's current 170GL of entitlement for 6000ha of Gwydir Wetlands? We've had zero allocation for 2 years prior to this one yet it sells some of the first allocation it gets, and elects not to take it's supplementary flow. Govt doesn't want what it's got now after years of drought, yet the MDBA want an additional 20% of water cut from irrigators. There's no sense to it. And thats the point.

I don't understand the "over-compensated" remark, the govt has purchased at market prices. Though it could be said that has kept prices firm during drought

I had never realised the NFF was so strong. Especially through those labor govt years.
I can understand the NFF being irrate that in the tariff reforms of the early 90's agriculture had little protection while tariff's like 100% duty on secondhand imported cars remained. I suspect reform was on the way, and NFF merely a supporter of reforms stemming from the Tariff Board decades earlier. Australia had tariff ranges outside those of her trading counterparts, and no doubt was under pressure from those countries.

Peter, ABARE gets it's info from other govt depts, and is merely repeating such. I'm sure it wouldn't go against the grain anyway. Don't worry the MDBA have it already factored in. They get that bit for free even though it's only an estimate 10 years out.

Well, what's the plan for this "structural adjustment"?
One presumes if large numbers of people do have to walk away, there is some sort of social security set up, or something that can be arranged, that helps tide this process over, at least for genuine strugglers rather than rorters?

I focu on the powerful irrigation lobby groups because they are currently doing nothing to find a solution. Instead they insist on battering the reform process that everyone agrees we need to have, whilst fanning the flames of fear in farming communities.

The local communities in contrast agree that the river is dying and needs more water. The question is one of how we go about this change is what remains in dispute.

The key question is: how do we deliver a transition that gives water back to the Murray-Darling at a level that not only slows its decline but improves its health, while looking after the communities that rely on the river.

The powerful irrigation lobby groups are doing nothing to find a solution to that question.

they are being paid to walk away. Plus they can sell their water entitlements and have a tidy asset in cash.

The irrigator lobby is looking at an authority that has plucked figures from who knows where for who knows what benefit. Thats as simple as I can put it. The Authority has come across as a political body rather than the scientific one it was supposed to be.

It would be interesting to poll the individual communities on whether they think their part of the river system is dying, and to what role the decade long drought played in that dying.

It may be that environmental assets require more water, or it may be that the 60% of water the environment already retains could be used more efficiently. The problem as I see it is that the only solution the MDBA could come up with is water cuts. And big ones - double what the "best" science of 2007 suggested. Cuts proposed without giving the NSW 2004 water sharing plans a chance to work. How can the science change so much? Arbitary end of system flow percentages are lazy science.

Perhaps someone could start by explaining better why 7700 GL a year flowing out to sea is more beneficial than the 5100GL modeled to flow under current conditions. Considering that the total "Murray system inflows for the three years ending in March[2009] were 5,160 GL, or 46 % of the previous three year minimum of 11,300 GL in 1943 to 1946. The persistence and severity of this drought, particularly over the past three years, is unprecedented."

The Basin plan clearly describes [p.28 fig3.3]the 15 year inflow sequence from 1995 to 2009 as the "driest" in modeled history.

The rhetoric that the Murray is dying due to irrigators doesn't stack up. It also doesn't make sense that a 3000GL entitlement reduction will fix the river when double that or more lay idle in zero allocation limbo.