Greens, Labor moves to reverse Basin Plan amendment will hit families hard, say farmers, irrigators

The livelihood of families living and working in Australia’s premier food-bowl are at risk if Labor and the Greens successfully halt the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

There has been a chorus of outrage at moves by the Greens to stop amendments to the Murray Darling Basin Plan that would relieve some of the social and economic suffering in the Northern Basin. 

The amendments came after a four-year scientific review by the Murray Darling Basin Authority which recommended the Northern river section’s water savings target be reduced by 70 gigalitres, to ease commercial suffering in mostly cotton producing regions, without any negative environmental impacts.

If passed it could jeopardize progress of the Southern Basin Evaluation and put into question the 605 gigalitres Sustainable Diversion Limits adjustment. Berriquin Irrigators Council chair Louis Kelly was reluctant to be drawn into the debate, saying the plan was clear about having no third party impacts.

“I’m in support of the Murray Darling Basin Plan provided it’s implemented fairly,” the Jerilderie farmer said. 

“We’ve got to believe in the system and the rule makers of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the politicians. They’ve got to be respectful of the decisions and the guidelines they’ve got to work in.”

​NSW Farmers said water decisions should be based on science.

“The Basin Plan is a living document and there are still many elements of water reform that we need to address, however, we are at the final stages of the plan, and a move that could unravel the entire process is not in anybody’s interests,” president Derek Schoen said.

The NSW government has said it would walk away from the bi-partisan Basin Plan if recovery recommendations were rejected in Federal parliament.

Austin Evans, whose state seat of Murray is in the heart of the southern irrigation region with the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers flowing through it, believed the Labor move was purely to boost the party’s chances ahead of the South Australian election.

“They’ve got their way for a long time by chucking a wobbly every time they don’t get what they want, well I think it’s time to say enough’s enough,” said Mr Evans, who spent more than a decade at Coleambally Irrigation before entering politics in late 2017.

“I know a lot of people have been wanting to walk away from the plan for a long time but there are consequences of doing it and it’s not going to be straightforward. 

“But even with those possible consequences I’d still say let’s walk away if they’re not going to operate in good faith.”

The MDBA stood behind its Northern Basin Review.

“The plan is visionary, long-term policy—and it’s working,” MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said. “We have now achieved almost all the water recovery required under the plan, with more than 2100GL of water recovered for the environmental health of the river system.

“The Basin Plan was neither expected nor intended to deliver immediate results.  

“It is simply not possible to repair 100 years of damage to such a vast river system overnight – or even within five years.”