The National Irrigators Council (NIC) has today called on the Australian Labor Party to reconsider its election water policy with indications the party will reverse the bipartisan clauses of protecting socio-economic conditions and caps to buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

NIC Chief Executive Officer Isaac Jeffrey said: “Without irrigation, we don’t have food on our tables or clothes on our backs – it’s that simple. Over seventy-six percent of our vegetables are grown by Australian irrigators. If the irrigated agriculture sector is damaged, this presents a risk to food quality, higher food prices impacting the cost of living, and forcing a reliance on imported food grown without Australia’s high regulations and standards. It also risks trade and our economy.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a bipartisan water management policy which has effectively balanced the water needs of local communities, the environment and the productive sector. NIC supports the Basin Plan and wants to see it fully implemented, and we acknowledge and celebrate the Plan’s achievements to date. This is a world-leading and complex policy with hard-won gains,
and its key pillars should not be abandoned.

“The 450 gigalitre efficiency measures, which were an ‘add-on’ to the Plan and designed to return more water to the environment, have an attached important caveat that projects must return a neutral or positive socio-economic impact on local communities. That is, projects should not harm local communities by undermining regional jobs, businesses and local economies.

“This caveat is eminently sensible, however recent comments by the Shadow Minister for Water, Terri Butler, seem to suggest if the 450 GL target is not met, a Labor Government would seek to remove the clause and buyback water – ripping it out of communities and putting them at risk.

“A move in this direction would be an unmitigated disaster for Basin communities. Not only could it affect food production, it could also lead to business closures, regional job losses and challenges in delivering water to other farmers as water is removed from the system.

“The Plan, as agreed with the States, must be respected, and it should take into account new technology and knowledge since its inception. In delivering the Basin Plan, we must stay true to its letter and spirit – that is, balancing the needs of the environment, communities and the productive sector. Irrigators support healthy rivers and environmental improvement because they’re locals too.

“Buybacks and removing these clauses from the Basin Plan would have a devastating effect on local communities. Today, I have written to invite the Shadow Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to visit Basin communities to understand how any such changes would impact these important food producing regions.

“To achieve the Plan, all groups must work constructively. Water is too important to become a political football. I look forward to working with both sides of Parliament to continue the longstanding bipartisan support for the Murray-Darling Basin, including the environment, local communities and the productive agriculture sector.”

Media Contact: Isaac Jeffrey 0407 083 890