Media Release


Schools left high and dry by water buybacks

Water buybacks have taken a toll on education in the southern NSW Murray-Darling Basin, with principals linking falling enrolments and subject choices to the lasting socioeconomic impacts of past Government purchases.

A NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) analysis of enrolment data, supported by interviews with school principals, shows how water buybacks are contributing to a loss of population and jobs, and therefore fewer enrolments, subject choice and resources for regional schools.

“When the Government buys water from farmers, it is the whole community that pays the price,” said NSWIC CEO Claire Miller. “As one principal told us: ‘the water buybacks create anxiety and worry … there is a lot of angst in the community’.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has attributed more than 3260 FTE jobs lost across the southern Basin directly to the six Sydney Harbor’s worth of water already purchased for the environment, and now the Federal Government wants to buy yet another Sydney Harbour’s worth.

“Each job lost can mean a family leaves town, and schools lose students. As one principal said, ‘Losing one family – that is three kids – could drop you a class or a teacher. The numbers are critical.’

“It becomes a downward spiral – as another principal explained, ‘It impacts on the local stores, the football/netball clubs etc. Then families start leaving because there are no longer enough boys, girls or students in their grade’.

The analysis reveals that on average, an entire high school class worth of students has been lost in every NSW southern Murray-Darling Basin region following the mass water buybacks a decade ago. The decline in Albury, Deniliquin, and Griffith regions is comparable to the loss of two classes of students.

“Water buybacks inevitably lead to fewer family farms, which school principals observing a correlating decline in enrolments. Fewer students then flow through to fewer staff, fewer subject options and fewer resources allocated to the school,” said Ms Miller.

“Regional students deserve a better education but are being denied by the Government’s determination to push through with unnecessary and damaging additional water buybacks.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. We know there are other options to deliver the Basin Plan’s environmental outcomes without resorting to more buybacks, but they are gathering dust on the Minister’s desk.

“The Minister claims that water purchase is ‘never the only tool in the box, it’s not the first tool at hand’ but our legal advice is clear: her amendments exclude any options other than water purchase in practice.

The report demonstrates a direct link between the amount of water recovered in a particular region and the decline in school numbers. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between communities impacted by water reforms and poorer school outcomes.

Data from ‘My Schools’ showcases a decline in total enrolments across schools in rural NSW southern Murray-Darling Basin following the Murray-Darling Basin Plan buybacks from 2008-2012.

The most significant declines were observed in:

  • Albury region high schools – where the average of 646 enrolments per high school in 2014 declined to 570 in 2022.
  • Deniliquin region high schools – with the average of 383 enrolments per school in 2014 declining to 313 in 2022.
  • Griffith region high schools – witnessing an average of 203 enrolments per school in 2015, which then plummeted to 143 in 2022.

To read the full report please click HERE

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