Government Withholds Vital Information from Senate on
Murray-Darling Basin Bill
The Federal Government is attempting to blindside the Senate on its Murray-Darling Basin
Bill by refusing to release crucial information on how it will affect farmers, regional
communities, the environment and the water market.

The National Farmers Federation, National Irrigators’ Council and NSW Irrigators’ Council
have written joint letters to the Water Minister and Agriculture Minister demanding
transparency to ensure an informed debate on the Water Amendment (Restoring our Rivers)
Bill 2023.

Submissions to the Senate Inquiry and polling by reputable analysts show that Australians
overwhelmingly oppose water buybacks and believe they will have negative impacts on
Basin communities.

The advice from the Government’s own agency, ABARES, is that this legislation will impact
water prices and have negative outcomes. Yet, the Government is relying on activist
academics telling them what they want to hear and ignoring their own agency’s advice.

If the Government is so sure this is not the case, then it must provide its internal information
instead of relying on the opinions of anti-irrigation academic activists.

The Productivity Commission also recently warned that in the absence of a plan for water
recovery the Government risked being seen as just chasing a target, with no interest in the
consequences or enough focus on the outcomes being sought.

The Government continues to deny communities and the Parliament any objective analysis,
planning and program information. Whilst it rewrites the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan,
which had Federal bipartisan and Basin State support and that communities understood to
be the limits of socioeconomic impact and the expected environmental outcomes.
This new legislation throws all that out the window for a political plan that causes more
hardship for Basin communities with little environmental gain, because it fails to deal with
constraints and the key degradation drivers that more water will not fix.

The former water Minister Tony Burke knew this 10 years ago which is why he had socio
economic protections and linked the efficiency measures for the 450GL program to
constraints and specific environmental outcomes, yet the current Government is removing
all of this and pushing ahead anyway.

If the Government does not disclose its research and modelling, then it must be assumed it
is knowingly pushing ahead with an agenda to cripple agriculture and regional communities,
to achieve a targeted number devoid of environmental outcomes.

The Government must come clean on:
A. How many jobs will be lost and how much farm production will be slashed by removing
all limits on water buybacks.
B. The impact of reduced farm production on Australians’ cost of living, and Australia’s
exports and balance of trade.
C. What environmental outcomes can be achieved given constraints on delivering
purchased water.
D. When, if ever, alternative proposals to complete the Plan without buybacks (provided to
Government earlier this year) will be assessed.
E. How the environmental outcomes of buybacks compare with options to directly invest in
the health of the river, such as funding fish ladders, bank restoration or carp eradication.

Quotes attributable to NFF Water Chair Malcolm Holm:
At this stage, there are simply too many unanswered questions for Senators to vote in favour
of this Bill.
The Bill has been rushed into Parliament. It’s convoluted and it completely lacks
transparency. We just want to know the impacts on communities and consumers, and we
want to know what it will achieve for the environment. As it stands that’s all unclear.
Either the Government knows the changes will be bad, or they haven’t done the work. Either
way, more needs to be done to ensure that farmers and the environment are protected.
We know that despite having one of the world’s best farm sectors, more and more
Australians are being pushed into food insecurity thanks to rising prices. Now isn’t the time
to shut down farm production by greenlighting unlimited water buybacks. We need to see the
detail and ensure we can keep farmers farming.

Quotes attributable to NSWIC CEO Claire Miller:
This rewrite of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan could not be further from what was agreed to
in 2012.
The former ALP Water Minister Tony Burke is on the record excluding buybacks for the
450GL because of the downsides for regional communities.
By refusing to engage and by not releasing documents to the Senate, it is pretty clear the
Government knows its rewrite will cause greater hardship yet it’s pushing ahead anyway.
Irrigated agriculture is the lifeblood of many regional communities. Once the money from
agriculture drains out of small town economies, job losses and business closures follow. We
know this because it has happened before. Let’s not rewrite history by ignoring lived
experience in the Basin.

Quotes attributable to NIC Chair Jeremy Morton:
The Government is knowingly changing the rules to negatively impact regional communities,
farmers, delivery networks and the economy and doing it without being transparent.

The Government needs to come clean on what these impacts will be and stop trying to ram
through poor legislation under the cover of environmental outcomes.

If the Government truly believes this is a good and fair policy, it will provide full transparency
on just how these changes will impact farmers and the environment prior to the Parliament’s

In the absence of any other evidence, it appears the Government’s only plan for the Murray
Darling Basin is to rely on farmers to be willing sellers to solve their political problems of a
volumetric target with no care for basin communities and no intention to achieve the
environmental objectives.

History has shown us that water buybacks mean job losses and declining economic activity
and that irrigated agricultural communities are hit the hardest . Analysis by the MDBA and
ABARES backs this up.