Affected councils in regional NSW have issued a last-gasp plea for Senators to reject proposed changes to the Murray-Darling Basin plan, saying the future of irrigation communities is at stake.
In an agreement with all basin states except Victoria announced in August, the Commonwealth said it would introduce legislation enabling it to buy back more irrigation licences to contribute towards the targeted return of 450GL of water by a new deadline of December 2027, and extend the time to complete water saving projects to December 2026.
It comes as a Senate inquiry into the proposed legislation backed the changes, with a report released on Friday recommending that the Upper House pass the bill, albeit with amendments to increase accountability and strengthen First Nations perspectives in water management.
The report also recommends that the government puts in place “appropriate eligibility parameters” for community assistance.
The Senate is set to vote on the legislation soon.
Food security concerns
Griffith Mayor Doug Curran said buybacks would decimate one of the most prosperous growing areas in Australia.
“Our government forefathers knew the potential of this area, it’s a pity our current government seems determined to destroy that legacy,” he said.
“Once we lose food security, we will be reliant on imports and we will have no control over our own
Narrabri Shire Council, Gunnedah Shire and Moree Plains Shire councils called on Senators to oppose the legislation.
“We’re urging Senators to look at these small communities, to look at what our farming and irrigation groups produce for this country, to look at the families in these communities, and to think about the broader picture,” Narrabri Shire Mayor Darrell Tiemens said .
Moree Plains Shire Mayor Mark Johnson the proposed buybacks would add to the decline of regional communities, Gunnedah Shire Mayor Jamie Chaffey slammed what he said was a lack of consultation.
“Where is the meaningful consultation with the people who will bear the brunt of this bill?” he said.
“People whose livelihoods are at stake need and deserve the opportunity to have input into their future in practical and positive ways. The proposals in this Bill will further divide the city and the bush.”
Government ‘ignoring impact on communities’
Councillor Glen Andreazza from the Murray Darling Association said the reintroduction of water buybacks and the removal of socio-economic neutrality testing was of particular concern.
“The federal government is completely ignoring the impacts to communities,” he said.
“They appear hell bent on achieving water recovery targets without any ‘further delay’ and they will pay whatever is required to have farmers agree to sell their water to them to achieve this politically opportunistic agenda.”
He said was expecting premium of up to 50 per cent above the true market value.
“This is an enormous waste of public funds. Public funds should be utilised to continue with improving efficiencies and better managing water in the distribution network,” he said.
Griffith City Council General Manager Brett Stonestreet blamed said state and federal red tape for stalling water efficiency projects can called for the delivery of projects to be shifted to regional entities.
“These centralised bureaucracies are totally disconnected with those who live and work in the Murray Darling Basin,” he said
Mr Stonestreet also said the additional 18 months to have projects implemented isn’t enough.
“Community and business confidence in the Basin will be decimated by this government agenda and our nation as a whole will suffer the consequences for generations to come,” he said.
The plan is currently scheduled to conclude in 2024. In July 2023, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority advised that its full implementation would not be possible by 30 June 2024.
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