“We need to acknowledge just how far we’ve come, that’s the first step”, said NSW Irrigators’ Council interim CEO Claire Miller in response to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
“There has been a lot of water reforms in a relatively short amount of time which has fundamentally changed the way water is managed, particularly for irrigation farming.”
“Any discussion of what’s next must understand what has changed. The conversation needs to step up and move beyond the age-old narratives, to understand where we are now and how we can move forward.”
We now have Sustainable Diversions Limits in place which must be complied with, over 20% of water for irrigation farming has now been transferred to the environment, and new metering requirements (including for floodplain harvesting) will mean NSW will shortly have the world’s highest water metering standards.
“The second step is the current reforms, which are not yet over, and must be done right, whilst addressing the adverse impacts.”
“There remain great challenges with current reforms, particularly the Basin Plan supply measure projects which are now at risk. If these projects stall, not only will environmental outcomes be forgone, but farmers will again be put at risk of more water recovery. Governments must take every step to make sure that does not happen.”
“The third, and very important step, is looking to the emerging and contemporary challenges and what further needs to change.”
“Climate change will hit irrigation farmers the hardest. There is a legislated order of priority for water, and irrigation farmers are at the very bottom, after human needs, towns, and the environment.”
“Water access is to a share of what water is available (if any) – if less water is available from climate change, the share for irrigation farming will automatically be reduced under current legislative arrangements.”
“Irrigation farmers are the ones carrying the risk of climate change, and that is concerning.”
NSWIC also provided a submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry, highlighting the need for adaptive management, and ways to protect communities and the water security of farming alongside environmental reforms.
The Productivity Commission found in 2017 that:
‘Overall, most jurisdictions have made good progress in meeting the objectives and outcomes of the NWI. The reforms have significantly improved the way water resources are managed…’
“We’ve said it before, and we will say it again – things have changed, and people need to realise that so we can have constructive conversations about how to continue to move forward,” said Ms Miller.
“We all have a role to play in moving forward – people properly understanding what has changed and the new policy settings, is crucial to allowing the conversation to progress.”
“Policy will stall if people don’t acknowledge what has changed, and get stuck in the past”, warned Ms Miller.
“We need fresh thinking to overcome these new challenges, and quite frankly, we don’t have time to be rehashing issues of the past”.