The National Irrigators Council (NIC) says that while it understands the hardship driving the anger of irrigators protesting in Canberra this week, its members feel that the problems would be made worse by ditching, rather than fixing, the Basin Plan.

NIC represents irrigators across the Basin states, members want to see problems addressed, but do not support ditching the Basin Plan or halting implementation

NIC CEO, Steve Whan said “the strong view of NIC members is that the flaws and challenges that remain in implementing the Basin Plan are best addressed by acting on the recommendations of this year’s Productivity Commission review of the Plan.

“It offers a way forward on some of the very difficult issues, including many highlighted this week by protests, and we urge Basin governments to act on those recommendations. 

“I recognise that many of the groups protesting are not saying there should be no plan for the Murray Darling Basin.  To be clear, we agree with many of their concerns.  Where we differ is on how to get a positive result and avoid even worse outcomes. 

“It is not just the Basin Plan causing the issues and canning it would not solve them.

Canning the Plan:

  • will not see environmental water returned to farmers – that water is owned by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder;
  • will not change the operation of the rivers which are bound up by long standing interstate agreements;
  • will not change the impact of the operation of the water market – which is completely separate to the Basin Plan;
  • will create huge uncertainty and likely result in a long-term outcome potentially worse for irrigators, communities and the environment. 

Steve Whan said “NIC fears canning the Plan would create massive uncertainty and could result in (at least) another 287 billion litres of water being bought back from irrigators in the NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee. 

“The reason for this is that the Commonwealth is obliged to either recover another 287 billion litres of water from the NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee or successfully implement supply projects which deliver equivalent environmental benefit by 2024.

“Based on the ABS 2017-18 figures for value of irrigated production, I estimate that water is worth more than $363 million in crops.  With even a modest multiplier, that becomes close to a billion dollar economic hit for communities like Griffith and Hay on the Murrumbidgee, and Murray communities like Deniliquin.

“Let’s be clear about this – there is no prospect of the Federal Parliament amending the Basin Plan to either return environmental water to irrigators or to reduce the overall targets. 

“An amendment like that would be unlikely to even get through the Government party room – let alone the Senate where Labor, Greens and South Australian MPs have a majority. 

“The Basin Plan is bloody difficult, but it was an historic bipartisan agreement that seeks to end a century of argument and is probably the most ambitious river system recovery ever attempted in the world. 

“While there may be some appeal in backing a very short-term agenda to ditch the Basin Plan, in the longer term that will certainly end up costing irrigation communities even more.

“Right now, we need government to be making a genuine effort to get the supply measures projects underway.  After the impacts of drought, the possibility of failure of those projects is the number one medium term threat to irrigation communities in the Southern Basin. 

“The other focus must be on using the Productivity Commission recommendations as a way forward in addressing issues about a Plan that focuses far too much on flow targets – rather than environmental outcomes – and currently fails to look at critical complementary measures to improve the whole health of the river system.” 

Media Contact:  Steve Whan 0429 780 883

2 December 2019