The National Irrigators’ Council (NIC) has today cautioned the Australian Labor Party (ALP) against rushing to commit to water policy decisions which will have adverse effects on food and fibre producers, the environment, local communities and water regulation.

NIC Chief Executive Officer Isaac Jeffrey said: “Today, the Leader of the Opposition has announced a number of water policy commitments under a banner of ‘for South Australia’. I would urge the Leader of the Opposition to be cautious and not rush to make commitments without genuine consultation – a lot has changed in the last decade.

“The Basin community is focused on delivering the Plan as a collective team through partnerships, negotiation and consultation. While some louder groups remain, the water wars of over a decade ago have calmed as people understand we are all in this together – and only together can we achieve the triple bottom line results called for in the Plan.

“The Basin is a connected system. Regardless of the States’ water powers, water doesn’t recognise State borders, it is constrained to the physical elements within the system of rivers, dams, creeks and wetlands. It needs to be managed with a national, systemwide focus on how best the water can be used to achieve outcomes.

“The 450 gigalitre efficiency measures program was designed to deliver positive or neutral socioeconomic benefits to the system through increasing local efficiencies. The 450 gigalitres is not an entitlement for South Australia, it is for the whole system to be used as required in local areas. If there is a need for more water to go to South Australia, of course it can flow on to the State, but it doesn’t
mean all of it will end up there.

“NIC remains committed to delivering the 450 gigalitres to the system, but it must retain the positive or neutral socio-economic benefits promised in the Plan. Any change in that status would be a breach of faith with irrigation communities. We call on Labor to tell Basin communities if their plan involves buybacks and if they remain committed to the socio-economic outcomes required under
the Basin Plan.

“The ALP has announced $25 million to revive the National Water Commission which would add yet another public service agency to an already bloated bureaucracy which manages water throughout the system. Labor should take it’s time to hear from the current agencies, including the Inspector-General of Water Compliance, on how the system works – there is no need for another

“The ALP has committed to implementing the ACCC’s water market recommendations. While NIC is supportive of a majority of those recommendations, caution must be shown in how they are implemented to avoid unreasonable costs or burdens being placed on the industry. We do not support the proposed Water Markets Agency as other existing agencies can fulfil those needs.

“NIC does not support bringing forward the review of the Basin Plan. There are still two years to complete works, including the SDLAM projects and they should be allowed the time to be implemented. It is also unlikely the agencies would be able to deliver it earlier as plans are still being prepared on how to conduct the review.

“We would ask the Labor party should it form government to agree to allow an extension of time for the 450 and 605 gigalitre projects if needed, as a sign of good faith and an acknowledgement of the hard work and sacrifice which has gone into achieving the significant progress made on the Plan to date.

“NIC supports the commitments to improve metering and monitoring, noting it should be extended to environmental water to ensure it is being used in the most effective way and delivering real outcomes. We also support the $12 million investment in science, while noting again a tremendous amount of work is already underway with experts in the Authority and other related agencies.

“Finally, the ALP has committed to delivering more water for First Nations peoples. NIC supports First Nations’ cultural water rights, but we understand a significant amount of consultation and work will need to be done to achieve some goals, including determining where these entitlements would come from, and we would welcome the opportunity to be part of the conversation.

“Food and fibre production, national trade, regional jobs, the environment and the health, happiness and survival of regional communities are too important to become political footballs. Monumental change has occurred in the water space over the past decade as communities and interest groups have come together to work on solutions. I strongly urge all candidates and political
parties to not make the Murray-Darling Basin and water management a partisan, point scoring,
public policy debate – like national security – it is just too important.”

Media Contact: Isaac Jeffrey 0407 083 890