“In a country with such variable rainfall, irrigation is the reason we have fresh food on our tables.

“That’s why, when the Basin Plan was developed, the then Labor Government decided that a key part of how water would be retrieved for the environment would be via programs that made irrigation more efficient and productive. With water savings shared between the environment and growing Australia’s food and fibre.

“The then Labor Government’s commitment was exactly the same as John Howard’s who when he announced the Plan in 2007 said its aim was “to increase agricultural production with less water use”.

NIC CEO Steve Whan was commenting in the context of ABC’s 4Corners running a biased promotion for a program looking into efficiency program funding under the Basin Plan.

Steve Whan said “The Basin Plan is the most ambitious river restoration project ever attempted anywhere in the world.  Of course, it is going to be difficult.  It’s particularly difficult if you actually give a damn about the future of rural communities and jobs – that’s exactly the reason Government included efficiency funding. 

“It has been expensive – but the infrastructure component has delivered 640 billlion litres of water for the environment.  That’s real water owned by the environmental water holder and it is available every year there is water allocation – in perpetuity.

“Those programs have also secured jobs, production and economic activity.  262 billion litres of that environmental water have been recovered from the Murrumbidgee alone, much of it around Griffith.  The economic analysis (and on the ground observation) will tell you Griffith is kicking goals, it is a community on the move and a contrast to communities where water has been recovered through mainly buyback.

“ The choice is stark, do you want healthy communities and healthy rivers – or ghost towns with shuttered and barred shop windows?

“The gain for the environment and the community from efficiency programs is real.

“The 640 billion litres has not been lost through so called ‘return flows’, independent research has proven that.

“Naturally when water is owned by companies and when an irrigation system is owned by a company (owned itself by its customers) then Government funds will go to private companies.  It would be impossible to implement the Basin Plan if it didn’t.

“In any expenditure of public money we expect the highest standards and that’s why our members have always supported open processes, audit and compliance.

“Irrigators and their communities have had a tough time during the implementation of the Basin Plan.  Despite that, we have done our best to be constructive participants with the aim of achieving healthy rivers, healthy communities and a continuing capacity to produce food and fibre for Australia. 

“We would welcome constructive and balanced assessment of the progress and flaws in the Basin Plan implementation by programs like 4Corners. 

“However, based on the promotions seen so far, the refusal to even interview key people and even suggestions of bullying by the crew, I fear that Monday night will instead see cheap and dishonest demonisation of people who work hard to produce this nation’s food and fibre.

“I would be delighted – but surprised – to be proven wrong.”

Media Contact:  Steve Whan 0429 780 883
Thursday 4 July 2019