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WATER REFORM: FARMERS ARE PART OF THE ANSWER

14 November 2006

Farmers across Australia are united in their commitment to effective water management and reform to ensure supply to rural and urban users alike, certainty for farmers and the preservation of the nation’s environmental resources.

National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie today called for assurances that governments and all those with an interest in water seek to understand the position of farmers and that their experience and expertise in managing water is utilised.

“Australia is facing both a short-term water crisis because of the drought and a long-term water management challenge,” Mr Crombie said. “Farmers are impacted by, and engaged in managing issues on, both of these fronts.”

Firstly, in the immediate term, Australia is in the grip of the worst drought on record.

“NFF seeks assurances that governments – both Federal and State – make water management decisions based on factual information with a clear understanding of the implications for all water users, including metropolitan Australia, regional communities, farmers and the environment,” Mr Crombie said.

“In that regard, while NFF supported the Prime Ministers’ Water Summit last week and many of the outcomes, farmers have some concerns in the short-term and seek greater input in managing the current crisis.

“While the Summit agreed to establish a team of bureaucrats from various Federal and State Government departments to examine contingency planning for town and urban water, NFF believes governments should consider a multi-disciplinary team of experts, including those from rural and urban industries.

“Further, while the Water Summit talked about contingency plans for urban and town water, which of course must be everyone’s highest priority, NFF seeks an assurance from governments that, with industry input, strategies will also be considered to manage the water crisis in the provision of ‘stock and domestic water’ and the preservation of permanent plantings, dairy herds and other production issues.

“A lack of uniformity in the response to the current water crisis remains. Decisions are being made every day by State Governments without consultation with each other, industry or the Federal Government. The lack of context around such decisions compromises Australian agriculture’s productive base, today and into the future.

“NFF cites the NSW Government’s decision to cut ‘carry over water’ as a case in point. Carry over water – that is, water already in the dam and saved by farmers from last year as a risk management measure to manage drought, is now being taken back by the NSW Government without compensation. This unprecedented policy shift undermines farmers’ confidence and their ability to plan for the future.

“While farmers recognise that water can be reallocated depending on the needs of rural and urban populations, to simply take back water already stored and factored into business plans by farmers, without compensation, is unconscionable.”

This is where the management of the water crisis moves into the second front of longer-term water management issues. The NSW Government’s decision undermines and distorts key pillars of the National Water Initiative (NWI) – that is, the certainty of water entitlements and the establishment of an efficient and effective trading market. It also highlights the inadequacies of Australia’s measuring and accounting information.

“NFF has been calling for improvements in Australia’s water measuring and accounting information for many years,” Mr Crombie explained. “It must be a Government priority to get this right. There can be no further delays in committing to, and implementing, the world’s most advanced metering, monitoring and data management systems.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

“Likewise, governments have been talking about modifying environmental flows in the Murray Darling. Many farmers across four States (Victoria, NSW, SA and Queensland) rely on the Murray Darling Basin for their survival.

“We recognise that the viability and sustainability of regional communities hinges on a healthy river system and government’s must understand that any short-term decisions that compromise the long-term health of the River will have enduring ramifications for Australian agriculture and regional communities.

“Again, farmers must be consulted on these issues. We are very much part of the solution.

“The NWI provides the framework to deliver the necessary water management solutions in this country. For too long, State Governments have lacked the commitment to implement the NWI in line with its intent. We trust the current water crisis in Australia demonstrates the need for this to change.”

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan, NFF Public Affairs, (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250 email:

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