Leaders urged stay course on Basin Plan

May 03, 2018

The Murray Darling Basin Plan has been subjected to countless reviews and inquiries since its inception, but the message from irrigators remains clear – we cannot abandon the plan.

A recent inquiry by the Murray Darling Basin Authority recommended slashing the water recovery target by 70 gigalitres (GL) – 18 per cent – to lessen the impact on irrigation communities.

Such a move has been supported by farmers, but it has been bitterly opposed by environmental groups and the Greens, who claim the Basin Plan is failing to deliver for the environment.

The Greens have already succeeded in having the proposed changes to the federal Water Act disallowed by the Senate, but the issue is expected to return to the upper house on May 7 and could threaten the entire Plan.

This will surely inflame tensions with Victoria and NSW. The two states have already flagged a willingness to pull the plug on the Basin Plan if the disallowance motion gets through, leaving the whole show on the brink of collapse.

An emotional response would only be a disaster for irrigation communities along the east coast. We need our political leaders to come back to the table in good faith with a vision to act on behalf of the whole community.

The Basin Plan is flexible -- water should be able to come from a range of projects and alternative arrangements agreed by the States. It does not have to be recovered solely from irrigators through on-farm projects. The key is that the ‘upwater’ is found without negative social or economic impacts to communities along the river.

Australian Dairy Farmers has strongly advocated for the recovery of 605GL in offsets and would like to see the Basin states deliver the full 605GL to be sure no further water is recovered from irrigators.

ADF and the Australian Dairy Industry Council have remained firm in advocating to halt Federal Government water buybacks at 1500 GL and urging the Government to make clear that it will not seek to recover the additional 450GL if it would harm our farming communities.

The Government is restricted by the Water Act from purchasing more than 1500 GL. It has so far purchased around 1160 GL and can still purchase 340GL. But the 450GL of upwater is exempt from the restriction, meaning that about 790GL can still be bought by the Government.

Alternatively, the upwater can include entitlements given up by farmers in return for Federal funding of on-farm upgrades. Either way, we are faced with the prospect of more water being ripped from productive agricultural use.

All states agreed to the offsets as a mechanism for achieving the goals of the plan. No State should be walking away from that agreed process now. The offsets will deliver better environmental outcomes than merely sending more water down the river and hoping for the best.

The process is now being complicated further by a South Australian Royal Commission into the Plan, which intends to invite witnesses to attend formal hearings from all four Basin states.

It is now likely this could change with the election last month of a new government in South Australia. The Australian Government is understood to be encouraging SA Premier Steven Marshall to wind back the Royal Commission’s terms of reference.

This is only the latest in a series of reviews and inquiries that have for more than five years plagued the Basin Plan. Running concurrently with the Royal Commission is a federally funded review which will, again, look at the effectiveness of the Plan.

We’re relying on all parties to reaffirm their commitment to the Basin Plan and reassure us that in retaining control of water, they are operating in good faith. It’s time to quit the review process and continue with the agreed course.

The Plan will never be able to satisfy all parties equally. But it is vital we stick to the original goal and ensure the 2750GL target is delivered as agreed, in part through 605GL in environmental offsets.

Collaboration key to dairy success

Jul 09, 2016

With the official announcement of last weekend’s election yet to be made, the dairy sector (like the rest of the nation) is watching very closely and working to ensure that all political parties understand our priorities. Whatever the outcome, it is essential that stability reigns – effective policy formation and clear action to overcome challenges will be otherwise impossible.

Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) has made clear its priorities for the next government – extend and streamline access to the concessional loans and Farm Household Assistance for all affected farmers, create a safer, more resilient workforce, ensure secure sustainable access to water resources and above all, address the imbalance of market power within the dairy supply chain.

It’s good to see that all parties have recognised the importance of supporting our farmers through the current challenge, as well as committing to developing innovative solutions to building long term sustainability of our industry.

However, it is concerning to see some are still calling for a fresh milk levy – an unworkable solution. If a fresh milk levy was imposed, it would potentially result in farmers who supply domestic markets subsidising their export market oriented counterparts. This is not a workable solution.

There are also potential difficulties associated with such a levy breaching Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regulations as well as potential issues with the World Trade Organisation.

The fundamental issue our farmers continue to face is that they wear the bulk of financial risk in the dairy supply chain. We need a practical and viable solution to increase transparency in the way the milk pricing system works and to simplify milk contracts to ensure the volatility of the market is better balanced along the supply chain.

This week UDV and ADF met with farmers in South West Victoria – to hear concerns, answer questions and build feedback about the current supply chain into our policy work. This is one of many meetings ADF will continue to participate in throughout the year, to ensure we are effectively representing farmers’ interests.

The discussion was robust. Overall, the consensus in the room was that trust has been broken and we need to find a way forward.

The challenges faced by farmers in Western Australia due to processor decisions reinforce the sector as a whole is enduring tough times – no state is immune.

Collaboration is what will get us to where we need to be. Our industry relies on all the elements to operate effectively. Farmers need processors and vice versa – so the solutions will require input from all parties.

Beyond this the public and the government ignore us if we do not operate as one. If we have a hung parliament, dairy will need parliamentary champions to advocate our policy priorities and the industry must work together to feed them that case.

David Basham

Acting ADF President

Keeping an eye on the big picture

Jun 23, 2016

The first priority over the last few weeks has been to secure targeted assistance and roll out support to help farmers with their most pressing needs.

At the same time, we remain focused on the big picture – especially when it comes to water. It won’t be enough to help farmers get over this hurdle if their businesses later fall over because water is too scarce and expensive to stay milking in seasons to come.

We can’t control the weather. The recent rains are a welcome reprieve, but to make a substantial difference to the bleak outlook on water allocations for next season it will need to keep raining heavily in the catchments over the next few months..

So while we watch the skies, our priority remains achieving long-term objectives on what can be controlled. Environmental water trading, the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the Connections reset all have an important bearing on whether enough water will be available when farmers need it and at a price they can afford in 2016/17 and beyond.

We are advocating for State and Federal Government commitments to assist our industry by making more water available next season. Potential untapped sources include trade in northern Victorian allocations to urban centres such as Melbourne, as well as a share of the environmental water held in Victorian and Commonwealth accounts.

The amendments to the Federal Water Act last month mean that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) now has more flexibility to trade water it may not need. As of 31 March, the CEWH still had just over 300 GL in storage; while it has no plans to trade in 2016-17 at this stage, this may change as part of environmental planning now underway.

We also remain focused on the Connections reset. The announcement that only $388 million is left to deliver more than 100 GL savings was unwelcome news at a time when farmers already have so much on their plates. Now more than ever, we must get this reset right to provide sustainable infrastructure for a resilient dairy industry.

Once the election is over, we will be back in Canberra to keep the pressure on the elected party to achieve the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s environmental outcomes without removing any more water from irrigated agriculture.

State and Commonwealth Governments have an in-principle agreement to deliver the full 650GL in environmental offsets, and undertake more robust socio-economic assessment before any attempt to achieve more than the 2750 GL target. We are holding them to all of these commitments.

South Coast Flood Recovery Assistance

Jun 07, 2016

Since heavy rains and wild winds hit the south east cost on 5 June, flooding has significantly affected dairying regions in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. These floods have added further issues to the industry which is already dealing with significant strain and instability.

The Australian dairy industry has mobilised quickly to provide farmers with support. 48 hours on from the damaging events, recovery assistance is the primary focus. We are working to understand the full impact of the floods to ensure targeted assistance for farmers. 

We are working to ensure farmers have adequate access to clean water and power to enable them to keep milking. Farmers are working to protect and care for their animals during these extreme events. Unfortunately, there have been reports of cows being lost to the floods and we empathise with farmers having to face this difficult situation.

Fencing is also an immediate concern, with the high water speed having destroyed many farm fences, as well as loss of pasture and newly sown crops. 

Please see below for information on seeking flood recovery assistance, further updates will be made as the information is made available: 

If my property has been affected, what should I be doing?

  • Try to focus on your priorities by writing a quick checklist of all the jobs that come to mind – classifying them by what needs to be done today, this week and later in the month. Download your Dairy Australia ‘recovery priority list’ here.
  • Take photos of the damage on your property to build up an inventory of losses (i.e. pumps, fencing, feed, etc).
  • Keep records of damage on your property until Helplines become available. Accurate and timely information will help the relevant departments secure the best possible level of disaster assistance.
  • Keep all your receipts associated with recovery efforts.
  • Remember to ask for help. 

What other support is there to assist me?

  • Find out about the options for milking without electricity supply here
  • Find out how to manage the health and welfare of cows during floods here.

 


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