Bipartisan support for water buybacks cap essential

Aug 18, 2015

The Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) has reiterated its long-standing support of the 1500 gigalitre (GL) cap on buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) with its submission to the 2015 Water Amendment Bill last month. The Bill, which will legislate the 1500GL cap as part of the 2750GL target under the Basin Plan, requires bipartisan support to deliver dairy farmers with much-needed certainty about future water availability to sustain their business.

The 1500GL cap provides dairy farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin with much-needed certainty about future water availability to sustain their business. At the same time, environmental water can continue to be recovered through water-saving infrastructure projects, which will benefit the environment, farmers and local communities more effectively than buybacks.

However, there were aspects of the Bill that the dairy industry did not support, in particular the fact that the 1500GL buybacks cap applies only to water recovered towards meeting the 2750GL target. Additionally, the failure to address long-standing limitations in the Water Act 2007 and the Basin Plan in achieving the socio-economic neutrality and triple bottom line outcomes promoted so often by decision-makers is a missed opportunity.

The ADIC’s key recommendations in the submission to the Bill were to:

  • Ensure that the 1500GL cap on buybacks includes the 450GL in the Water for the Environment Special Account
  • Clarify that the entitlement transfer to the Commonwealth relating to infrastructure and reconfiguration for state programs are excluded in the 1500GL cap on buy backs.
  • The Basin Plan socio-economic neutrality test should include collective impacts on irrigation districts, community and water market.
  • Amend the Basin Plan to ensure that the 2750GL target is achieved first before any water recovery is counted towards the 3200GL target, and that any water recovered under the Special Account first covers any shortfall to the 2750GL target.
  • Clarify that the 450GL “up water” is an up-to amount, not a minimum.
  • Enable environmental water trading where the proceeds can be reinvested in works and activities for environmental outcomes, and to cover the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder’s storage and other costs.

Bipartisan support for the legislative change remains a key priority for the ADIC, with representatives meeting with both sides of parliament to ensure the importance of passing the 2015 Water Amendment Bill is heard and acknowledged across the board.

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

 

 

Audits streamlined to save on farm

Jun 18, 2015

The news that the Department of Environment will remove unnecessary audit requirements from the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Programme (OFIEP) has been warmly welcomed by Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF). The relaxation of the requirements, which ADF has been advocating for well over 12 months, will save programme participants in the southern-connected region of the Murray Darling Basin significant time, money and stress.

The issue arose from the Department of Environment insisting that every single farmer who got funding from the OFIEP, had to get an independent audit of their works, in addition to the individual farm compliance documents already held by the delivery partners. All of this was at the farmers’ personal expense and within 60 days of the end of each financial year.

The audits were designed to ensure that each of projects was completed within the terms and conditions of work contracts, and that the Government funding provided was spent appropriately.

On Wednesday 20 May, ADF received a letter from Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Environment, the Hon. Bob Baldwin MP, acknowledging ADF’s concerns around the cost imposition and stipulating alterations to the requirements. Farmers are now instead required to undertake an audit at the end of their project, rather than at the end of each financial year, and may use their personal accountant rather than a costly independent auditor to do this review.

Chair of the ADF Natural Resources Policy Advisory Group, Daryl Hoey said that while farmers had no objection to being accountable for their spending, the audits ultimately became red tape.

“The requirements were onerous from both a time and money perspective. Removing the additional requirements for farmers will mean savings of up to $2000, plus reducing the added pressure of going through an audit process,” Mr Hoey said.

“Beyond this it will also assist in streamlining the way in which the programme is rolled out, which may encourage greater uptake of irrigation improvement by farmers.”

ADF is strongly supportive of infrastructure programs under the Murray Darling Basin Plan as they have demonstrated significant cost-benefit, with upgrades to existing infrastructure delivering approximately $9800/ML worth of increased farm productivity.

An important part of the 450 GL recovery through on and off farm infrastructure savings under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the On-Farm Efficiency Programme involves participating farmers transferring water entitlements back to the environment that are equivalent to half the savings they achieve. In return farmers receive government investment on their farm to improve their capacity to produce more milk from less water.

Upgrades already carried-out under the programme have delivered approximately $9800/ML worth of increased farm productivity per year.

To find out whether you’re eligible for the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Programme, click here


Water security linked to regional wellbeing

Apr 06, 2015

On 25 March, Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) participated in the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Water Taskforce workshop. The agenda was focused on a discussion about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its measured social and economic impact on the wellbeing of people living in the Basin area.

Access to water is important in many ways for the wellbeing of rural and regional Australians. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is Australia’s largest water reform in recent decades and significantly changes access to water in the Basin. Evaluating the impact of the Basin Plan is complex, particularly separating out the impacts as a result of the Basin Plan compared to changes that would have occurred anyway.

At the workshop, the NFF Taskforce discussed the work to date in evaluating this impact with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Department of the Environment (DoE). In addition, the survey leader of the Regional Wellbeing Survey – undertaken by the University of Canberra, in collaboration with MDB Futures – shared preliminary findings of the 2014 Regional Wellbeing Survey, including trends since the 2013 survey, with the NFF Taskforce.

Among the survey findings, the Plan’s perceived impact on the Basin residents differs depending on whether they are considering the effects on their household, community, or the Basin as a whole. The survey revealed that of the 34 per cent of the survey respondents with an interest in the Basin area; approximately 55 per cent said the Basin Plan would positively or neutrally affect the health of the environment in the Basin. In comparison, over 45 per cent said it would negatively impact farmers in the community.

This highlights the need for balance between providing for agricultural production and the environment. It also demonstrates that reforms to water allocation do have impacts on regional communities. Views about the social, economic and environmental impact vary significantly across different local areas.

Dairy farmer and processor national representative body, the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) continues to provide input towards the MDBA and DoE’s monitoring and evaluation of the Basin Plan’s impact. Last year, the ADIC contributed towards the development of the MDBA Evaluation Strategy to ensure a strong methodology and meaningful evaluation of the intended Basin Plan outcomes.

Dairy farmers have also contributed to case studies carried out in two dairy communities in 2014. Testing the impact of the Basin Plan on farmers, regional communities and the environment is important to ensure the integrity of the Basin Plan and to inform future reviews and adjustments.

The full Regional Wellbeing Survey will be released in stages throughout 2015. The community wellbeing section is anticipated to be available in May, and the farming section – which will include data on farm performance, development, barriers and farm exit – is expected to be available in June. The full survey will be available later in the year.

For more information on monitoring the Basin Plan, click here.

 

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