Murray Darling Basin report reveals complex socio-economic outcomes from water reform

Analysis of water recovery and demographic changes in the Southern Basin reveals a complex relationship between water recovery and economic outcomes.
Analysis of water recovery and demographic changes in the Southern Basin reveals a complex relationship between water recovery and economic outcomes.

Water is not the determining factor in the local economies of irrigation towns in southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia, according to new analysis from the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

The report looked at 45 irrigation districts and the jobs contained in them, and drew on information collected by Australian Bureau of Statistics between 2001 and 2016.

It included the Berrigan-Finley, Cobram, Coleambally, Deniboota, Denimein, West Berriquin, Lockhart, Benalla and Shepparton regions.

The report – available at mdba.gov.au – noted influential demographic factors included shifts in agricultural production, technology and climate, as well as water availability.

“Although there are some communities that have been experiencing hardship, during the past five years the Basin economy as a whole has continued to grow,” MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said.

“Even with Basin Plan water recovery, and earlier recovery of water for the environment prior to the Basin Plan, the value of irrigated agriculture in the Basin has remained steady.

“This is due to productivity improvement … as well as changes to the mix of crops grown and changes in commodity prices.”

Mr Glyde said the results showed unexpected variability of impacts from water recovery across the Southern Basin.

MDBA Cheif executive Phillip Glyde.

MDBA Cheif executive Phillip Glyde.

Employment fell in some regions while only a small amount of water was recovered, while in others large amounts of recovery had not impacted employment, Mr Glyde said.

“This indicates that not only is the Basin Plan just one of a number of factors behind social and economic change – but in many communities it may not be the most significant factor.”

A notable factor in lifting productivity was the Plan’s on-farm infrastructure schemes, which swap Commonwealth funding for investments to improve the efficiency of water use in farm enterprises for water entitlements.

Southern Basin 2001-2016

  • Employment fell on average 24% increasing in rate over time
  • Employment dropped 3% between 2001-2008, 8% from 2006 to 2011 and 13% between 2011-2016
  • The average change to community population in the irrigated region was a decrease of 9%. It dropped 3% between 2001-2006, and fell 7.5% from 2006-2011 and increased 1.5% between 2011-2016
  • The data does not include season workers

Coleambally

In a traditional rice growing region significant modernisation of infrastructure has fueled consolidation of farm enterprises and diversification of cropping, with cotton a notable recent entry.

Water

  • Surface water entitlements in Coleambally were 316 gigaltires before the Basin Plan
  • 14.5GL was recovered through direct buybacks, of which 73% occurred before 2011
  • 10.6GL was recovered through on-farm infrastructure schemes
  • The net reduction in water for irrigation was 10GL

Population

  • The population fell from 1226 in 2011 to 1192 in 2016

Workforce

  • Overall: down from 514 to 406 (three quarters of the reduction occurred between 2011 - 2016)
  • Agriculture: down 23% (employment in irrigated production fell 25%)
  • Ag manufacturing workforce: down 11%
  • Non ag private: down 45%, or 68 full time jobs
  • Government services: up 22%, or 13 full time jobs

Shepparton

The Shepparton region covers the private Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), which has experienced a significant decline in jobs.

Production in the traditionally strong dairy industry region shrunk 25pc since the turn of the Century. About 40pc of water buybacks in the GMID took place between 2011 and 2016, but employment in dairying only fell 4 per cent in that period.

Water

  • Surface water entitlements in Shapparton were 212GL before the Basin Plan
  • 27.5GL was recovered through direct buybacks. 58% occured prior to 2011
  • 3.3GL was recovered through on-farm infrastructure schemes
  • The net reduction in water for irrigation was 26GL

Population

  • The population rose from 11,952 in 2011 to 17,853 in 2016

Workforce

  • Overall: up from 4608 to 17,853 (all the increase occurred between 2001 - 2011)
  • Agriculture: down 19%, or 221 full time jobs (employment in irrigated production fell 42%)
  • Ag manufacturing workforce: down 8pc or 30 full time jobs
  • Non ag private: up 29%, or 644 full time jobs
  • Government services: up 112%, or 934 full time jobs