The Federal Government is attempting to blindside the Senate on its Murray-Darling Basin Bill by refusing to release crucial information on how it will affect farmers, regional communities, the environment and the water market.
The National Farmers Federation, National Irrigators’ Council and NSW Irrigators’ Council have written joint letters to the Water Minister and Agriculture Minister demanding transparency to ensure an informed debate on the Water Amendment (Restoring our Rivers) Bill 2023.
Submissions to the Senate Inquiry and polling by reputable analysts show that Australians overwhelmingly oppose water buybacks and believe they will have negative impacts on Basin communities.
The advice from the Government’s own agency, ABARES, is that this legislation will impact water prices and have negative outcomes. Yet, the Government is relying on activist academics telling them what they want to hear and ignoring their own agency’s advice.
If the Government is so sure this is not the case, then it must provide its internal information instead of relying on the opinions of anti-irrigation academic activists.
The Productivity Commission also recently warned that in the absence of a plan for water recovery the Government risked being seen as just chasing a target, with no interest in the consequences or enough focus on the outcomes being sought.
The Government continues to deny communities and the Parliament any objective analysis, planning and program information. Whilst it rewrites the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which had Federal bipartisan and Basin State support and that communities understood to be the limits of socioeconomic impact and the expected environmental outcomes.
This new legislation throws all that out the window for a political plan that causes more hardship for Basin communities with little environmental gain, because it fails to deal with constraints and the key degradation drivers that more water will not fix.
The former water Minister Tony Burke knew this 10 years ago which is why he had socio economic protections and linked the efficiency measures for the 450GL program to constraints and specific environmental outcomes, yet the current Government is removing all of this and pushing ahead anyway.
If the Government does not disclose its research and modelling, then it must be assumed it is knowingly pushing ahead with an agenda to cripple agriculture and regional communities, to achieve a targeted number devoid of environmental outcomes.
The Government must come clean on:
Quotes attributable to NFF Water Chair Malcolm Holm:
At this stage, there are simply too many unanswered questions for Senators to vote in favour of this Bill.
The Bill has been rushed into Parliament. It’s convoluted and it completely lacks transparency. We just want to know the impacts on communities and consumers, and we want to know what it will achieve for the environment. As it stands that’s all unclear.
Either the Government knows the changes will be bad, or they haven’t done the work. Either way, more needs to be done to ensure that farmers and the environment are protected.
We know that despite having one of the world’s best farm sectors, more and more Australians are being pushed into food insecurity thanks to rising prices. Now isn’t the time to shut down farm production by greenlighting unlimited water buybacks. We need to see the detail and ensure we can keep farmers farming.
Quotes attributable to NSWIC CEO Claire Miller:
This rewrite of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan could not be further from what was agreed to in 2012.
The former ALP Water Minister Tony Burke is on the record excluding buybacks for the 450GL because of the downsides for regional communities.
By refusing to engage and by not releasing documents to the Senate, it is pretty clear the Government knows its rewrite will cause greater hardship yet it’s pushing ahead anyway.
Irrigated agriculture is the lifeblood of many regional communities. Once the money from agriculture drains out of small town economies, job losses and business closures follow. We know this because it has happened before. Let’s not rewrite history by ignoring lived experience in the Basin.
Quotes attributable to NIC Chair Jeremy Morton:
The Government is knowingly changing the rules to negatively impact regional communities, farmers, delivery networks and the economy and doing it without being transparent.
The Government needs to come clean on what these impacts will be and stop trying to ram through poor legislation under the cover of environmental outcomes.
If the Government truly believes this is a good and fair policy, it will provide full transparency on just how these changes will impact farmers and the environment prior to the Parliament’s vote.
In the absence of any other evidence, it appears the Government’s only plan for the Murray Darling Basin is to rely on farmers to be willing sellers to solve their political problems of a volumetric target with no care for basin communities and no intention to achieve the environmental objectives.
History has shown us that water buybacks mean job losses and declining economic activity and that irrigated agricultural communities are hit the hardest . Analysis by the MDBA and ABARES backs this up.