Profiling of irrigation communities ‘not the full story’

Profiling of 'irrigation-dependent' communities will form the basis of the MDBA's analysis of the social and economic impacts of the basin plan on Southern Basin communities, due to be released in April this year. Picture: MARK JESSER
Profiling of 'irrigation-dependent' communities will form the basis of the MDBA's analysis of the social and economic impacts of the basin plan on Southern Basin communities, due to be released in April this year. Picture: MARK JESSER

The combined population of Berrigan and Finley decreased by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2016, profiling by the Murray Darling Basin Authority shows.

The region is one of 40 “irrigation-dependent” communities in the Southern Basin being analysed as part of a five-year evaluation of the plan, with further findings to released in April.

While the MDBA says the initial profiling does “not yet capture the full story” with the basin plan one of many factors contributing to social and economic changes, the Murray Darling Association representing local governments says there is “clear correlation between the loss of water and loss of jobs”.

The profile, detailing ABS and water recovery data, showed 64 billion litres or 10 per cent of available water was recovered up to October 2016 in Berrigan-Finley, the majority through buy-backs. 

This reduced the water available for production by 31 billion litres.

Between 2001 and 2016, the workforce decreased by almost 40 per cent – the statistic was the same for the decrease in agriculture-specific jobs.

The non-agricultural private workforce decreased by 57 per cent.

In comparison, water available for production in Cobram was reduced by 57 billion litres, and the population increased by seven per cent.

While there was a 10 per cent decrease in workforce across the board, there was double the decrease in agricultural work compared to the private workforce.

Five areas where there was no water recovery were also analysed as a point of comparison, including Benalla, where the population increased by two per cent and the workforce by 64 per cent.

A MDBA spokeswoman said it was “essential to understand there are many reasons for the socio-economic trends in the irrigation communities – changes cannot simply be attributed to the basin plan”.

“Overall, the MDBA’s five year evaluation shows the basin plan is working … there is clear evidence of positive local-scale environmental outcomes,” she said.

MDA national president David Thurley said local government was concerned the significance of the data may be diluted by an over-emphasis on other factors impacting farming economies.

“Local government recognises that other factors cause change to our rural economic indicators, and these must be distinguished,” he said.

“However, any analysis of the social and economic impacts of the basin plan must clearly acknowledge the direct and the flow-on social and economic impact of water loss on our rural communities.

“We are pleased to see that the data presented by the MDBA clearly affirms what we have been saying for years – that the social and economic impact of the Basin Plan on towns and communities is significant.”