Media Release


Irrigators firmly condemn more buybacks

The NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) has strongly condemned the Federal Government’s plan for additional water buybacks and removal of the cap on water recovery to go beyond the Murray Darling Basin Plan requirements, saying the announcement has sent shockwaves through Basin communities.

“Basin communities have already lost 1 in 3 litres of irrigation water to get the Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limits in place, and the uncertainty of more, beyond what was required to reach the SDLs, is a major cause for concern,” said NSWIC Acting CEO Christine Freak.

“To put this in perspective, buying back the NSW share of an additional 450GL of water will remove the equivalent of nearly half of the remaining high-security water that’s left for farming in the NSW Southern Basin. This is very concerning, given the severe socio-economic and water market impacts, and implications for Australia’s food bowl.”

Irrigators have called out further buybacks as politics over good policy, emphasising that other pathways are available, that can deliver better environmental outcomes, without the socio-economic impacts.

“Additional buybacks are just not required now Sustainable Diversion Limits are in place,”[1] said Ms Freak.

“Basin communities have engaged with Government in good faith and provided countless alternatives to delivering additional environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan, which do not require further buybacks.

The NSW Government must ensure no further buybacks, and act fast on getting new projects delivered well and within new timeframes.

“It is critical that this additional time is used to genuinely explore alternative pathways, working with Basin communities to target key degradation drivers, and not simply resort to buybacks.

“The science is saying the most pressing environmental needs of the Basin cannot be fixed by just adding more water, with key degradation drivers now being invasive species like carp, habitat degradation, lack of fish passageways, cold water pollution, and a need for more fish screens.”

The most recent  five-yearly review of the implementation of the Basin Plan found:

“Recovering water through efficiency measures has become increasingly divorced from the environmental outcomes it is meant to achieve. The current focus of the program is on meeting the legislated target of recovering an additional 450 GL by 2024. There is little evidence that it has been designed to recover water in the places needed to effectively achieve the enhanced environmental outcomes.”

“Buybacks have already had well-documented severe impacts on Basin communities, with 30% of the 10,800 FTE jobs lost across the Southern Basin from 2001 to 2016 attributed to buybacks,”

A 2022 report commissioned by the Victorian Government found that simply buying back Basin Plan shortfalls would result in over $850 million in forgone production per year, with an extra 17,500 hectares of high-value horticulture being dried off.

NSWIC is calling on Governments to urgently and meaningfully work with communities to find alternative pathways.

[1] 98% of surface water recovery against the Bridging the Gap target has been achieved.

Secure - Sustainable - Productive