MDBA Plan uncertainty puts dampener on fast approaching Riverina rice harvest

Ricegrowers Association of Australia president Jeremy Morton.
Ricegrowers Association of Australia president Jeremy Morton.

As Riverina ricegrowers prepare for the 2018 harvest in coming weeks they will have one eye on Federal politics and the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Ricegrowers Association president Jeremy Morton believed irrigation communities have found themselves in the “unusual position” of defending the plan processes following a Greens’ Senate move to disallow MDBA amendments to the Northern Plan.

“We’ve got this really unusual situation where probably for the past five years it’s been irrigation communities that have been putting the pressure in the MDBA to make sure they deliver a plan that doesn’t impact on communities and, all of a sudden, we’re now defending the plan and the process and the MDBA, and you’ve got the environmentalists trying to discredit them and saying they’ve cooked the books,” Mr Morton said.

“It’s really come the full circle which is quite interesting.”

Mr Morton, a rice farmer from Moulamein, said there was an opportunity the northern basin review could return to Parliament later this year but the pressing concern for irrigators was the looming vote on southern basin changes.

The southern changes include a plan to save 605GL of water through the sustainable diversion limit adjustment, as well as a longer-term adjustment to make an extra 450GL available for the environment in the lower Murray. “That 605GL … if they just knocked that on the head in May you’ll see all hell break loose,” Mr Morton said.

“While the indications from NSW and Victoria are they are having a good, hard look at what the disallowance of the 70GL reduction in the north means, I don’t think they’d be looking too hard if the SDL reduction got knocked on the head – they’d exit the plan.

“From an irrigation community, a rice growing community, there’s no way we’d be happy with another 605GL of water to be recovered, and that’s before you even start talking about the upwater, the 450GL to be achieved through on-farm efficiencies.”