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.

Senate must prioritise Water Bill

Apr 05, 2016

The Water Amendment Bill 2015 makes positive strides toward improving the Murray Darling Basin Plan, providing much needed flexibility.

It is essential that the Australian Senate passes the Bill when it returns to Canberra for its sitting starting 18 April. If the Bill does not pass before the election it will face significant delay, to the detriment of communities and industries in the Murray Darling Basin.

Without the flexibility the Bill provides, the States and Commonwealth will be locked into decisions in June that will likely lead to even more water being removed from agriculture and the communities that depend on irrigated industries like dairy.

In particular, the proposed amendments deliver more flexible timelines for reviews of the Basin Plan and related changes to the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL), which determine how much water can be extracted from the rivers for human consumption, including agriculture.

The Bill also provides greater trading flexibility for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH). This flexibility will deliver positive environmental outcomes while simultaneously giving the community, farmers and manufacturers more certainty on their access to water supplies.

The dairy industry has strongly lobbied for these changes, and supports their implementation.

Dairy farmers in the Murray Darling Basin have proved flexible users of water, steadily adapting their practices to produce more milk with less water over the last 20 years.

We need the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the law that sits behind it to have the same flexibility. The Basin Plan is already having a significant impact on farmers, manufacturers and the rural communities they support, with more to come as recovery deadlines approach.

If we are to continue to adjust to the inevitable changes in water availability and affordability we need a plan with clear, appropriate targets and approaches, that can also adjust. This will help deliver positive outcomes for the environment, community and industry.

Passing the Water Amendment Bill will provide the Murray Darling Basin community with the confidence that Canberra politicians are willing to improve the Plan in advance of considering decisions in June. 

At this time, the Commonwealth and State Governments will either make or break the Basin Plan. We need the Water Bill to pass to ensure the pending decisions under the Basin Plan this year are based on a foundation of flexibility.

Let your representatives know the importance of supporting the passage of this Bill through the Senate as quickly as possible by contacting your local, state and federal parliamentarians. See here to get the details of parliamentarians for your region.


 

ADIC re-forms Water Taskforce

Jan 24, 2016

Over the course of 2015, the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) increased its advocacy focus on the impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) and the need for changes to the Plan and its implementation.

Significant achievements were made in 2015 with the Federal Government committing to legislation to cap water buybacks in the MDBP at 1500 gigalitres (GL). Further, indications that more flexibility will be provided for environmental water trading were welcome. However, the ADIC still has concerns regarding the MDBP’s unrealistic timelines as well as a lack of planned transition and structural adjustment.

2016 is a critical year in the Plan’s implementation. The deadline for the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism is imminent. Progress with state offset projects leading up to this June 2016 review is also of significant concern.

Secure access to quality water is paramount to dairy’s future. Reduced access to the water resources the industry relies on will impact dairy’s profitability, productivity and international reputation. To ensure that the dairy industry’s key priorities are effectively represented and addressed in this discussion, the ADIC has re-formed its Water Taskforce.

The ADIC Water Taskforce, chaired by Victorian dairyfarmer Daryl Hoey, provides a cross-industry group to support the ADIC in driving for pro-dairy solutions in current and future opportunities for review and change.

The priorities of the Taskforce for 2016 are to seek a review and delay the 450GL ‘upwater’ as part of a stock take to better understand the effects (both positive and negative) of water recovery. Further, the Taskforce will also push for the delivery of the full 650 GL in environmental offsets to ensure any shortfall does not have to be covered by farmers. Other targets include a more transparent water market and information as well as ongoing monitoring and support for regional and state water programs including the Northern Basin and Menindee Lakes and Connections Reviews.

For further information about the ADIC’s Water Taskforce contact the ADF Office via (03) 8621 4200.

Water Act Review Progresses but more still to be done

Dec 21, 2015

The Coalition’s response to the independent review of the Water Act 2007 was released in December 2015. The Government’s decision to adopt all of the recommendations, some wholly and others partially, including to provide greater trading flexibility for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH), is positive new for Australian dairy farmers.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) has lobbied hard for increased flexibility for the CEWH in optimising environmental outcomes in ways that ensure dairy producers have better access to water supplies. Dairy has proved a flexible and responsible user of water. We have adapted our practices to be more water-efficient. However, reduced access to water resources is already putting pressure on dairy’s productivity and profitability. This CEWH flexibility is key to helping our industry remain viable. It will also ensure a balanced approach to achieving environmental outcomes in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Government’s stated commitment to continue to work towards achieving a total 650GL supply offset is also positive. Achieving the full amount through environmental works means more water stays in the irrigation pools.

Chair of the ADIC’s Basin Taskforce, Daryl Hoey described the response as a positive first step but highlighted greater improvements in the implementation of the Act and the Murray Darling Basin Plan are still required.

“That the Government didn’t agree with the submissions of many to amend the Act to unambiguously state a triple-bottom-line objective or to strengthen the current implementation of the legislation is of concern. Such an approach is critical,” Mr Hoey said.

“It’s good to see the Government amend timelines to some evaluations and reviews under the Act. We now need such revisions to be applied to all elements of the Act.

“In particular, there is a need for a robust evaluation of environmental, economic and social impacts before considering an additional 450 gigalitres (GL) of water being taken from agriculture.”

To see the ADIC submission to the Water Amendment Bill 2015 click here.


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