Government’s amendment to Basin Plan impacts keeps communities in the dark

12 June 2024, Caberra, ACT: The Australian Government is attempting to use the
$300 million Sustainable Communities Program to divert attention from their
addendum to the Murray Darling Basin Plan regulatory impact assessment which
lacks transparency on the true cost of the Basin Plan to communities.

National Irrigators’ Council CEO, Zara Lowien is critical of the Government’s narrow
assessment, which avoids the true cost of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

“They’ve largely partitioned off any assessment of prior impacts, ignoring cumulative
impacts and failing to provide regional or industry level assessment.”

“Choosing to disregard the northern Basin completely and only focusing on the
broader southern Basin. Allows for trade-offs between sellers and buyers in the
connected market, and between communities by assuming people and jobs are
transferable, which are not always the case.”

“As a result, they make comments like on aggregate and on average, the impact is

“When in reality, the analysis looked at a maximum recovery of 325 gigalitres,
ignoring the likely full recovery task that could be double that volumei and the
impact of the 2,100 gigalitres already recovered.”

Mrs Lowien said the report failed to address concerns about cumulative impacts,
which have been a key concern throughout the Restoring our Rivers debate and

“Conveniently the report did not clearly communicate that full implementation of
the Basin Plan will increase the cost of water by $143 per megalitreii on average in
the southern Basin.”

“That doubles the impact on water prices due to the Basin Plan so far. Signalling any
water purchases now will have higher price impacts than previously experienced.”
“Putting the production of essential Australian commodities, such as rice and locally
supplied milk at risk and that’s before Australia’s in a drought.”

“As the report identified, this will concentrate social and economic impacts in
irrigation water dependent communities in the Murrumbidgee, Murray and northern
Victoria that grow these commodities and where many of the most vulnerable
communities were located but the analysis fell short of outlining the true cost to
these communities and the Australian taxpayer.”

“The Australian Government must not shy away from doing proper regional scale
impact assessment where the commodities and communities are known to be atrisk.”

“It is unacceptable that more than 15-years since the first water purchase program,
that governments are unable to determine the specific impacts of the Basin Plan
reform from external factors.”

“It is time for them to stop taking the easy option of spatially aggregating outcomes
and not considering the cumulative impacts at the local level.”
“Basin communities, commodities and existing delivery infrastructure maybe at
critical thresholds and they are in the dark.”

“Regional scale information is essential to ensure the Sustainable Communities
Program is adequately funded and targeted, demonstrating that any step taken to
finalise the Basin Plan, is measured and genuinely considers these socio-economic
impacts of that community.”

“Without this information, the Sustainable Communities Program will become a
buyoff for local governments for silo painting projects and gardens for main streets in
towns that are full of closed shopfronts, as it cannot be strategic or sufficiently
funded to provide the equivalent economic activity that communities deserve.”
said Mrs Lowien.