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COAG on notice over water: “time’s up for stagnant states”

29 April 2009

“AFTER 18-months in office the Federal Government’s flagship ‘Water for the Future’ plan – including a dedicated $5.8 billion rural water-use component – is still undelivered and the patience of farmers has been exhausted,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Water Taskforce Chair Laurie Arthur said on the eve of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) meeting in Hobart.

“If COAG, yet again, fails to agree on, and fast-track, the rollout of an on-farm component of the ‘Water for the Future’ plan, then the states must be bypassed on national water reform.

“The Federal Government’s water reform agenda was sold to the rural sector on the premise that it is a two-pronged, co-ordinated approach for both water acquisition and infrastructure investment. The Federal Government said it could deliver this plan due to the goodwill between it and its Labor State Government counterparts.

“Instead, the two-pronged plan has only seen one element, water acquisition, enacted on the ground. While it is important that the Government only buy water from willing sellers, farmers are still waiting for programs to fast-track water-saving works to off-set water buy-back and continue sustainable farm production.

“Without on-farm infrastructure upgrades driving water savings, water buy-back is a half-baked solution. Australia needs food and fibre, and healthy rivers. There was a plan to achieve both objectives but, one-and-a-half years later, still nothing has materialised on the ground.

“With water needed from on-farm water savings to restore environmental flows, state governments have simply failed to put projects together to meet these critical dual needs. Tomorrow is their last chance to act.

“State and Federal Governments risk the total loss of confidence of the very people we all rely on to use water wisely to produce food, drive economic activity and manage environmental needs.

“Farmers are the first to recognise we need to get ‘more crop per drop’ and we’re committed to delivering productivity and water-efficiency gains. Rural water infrastructure, including on-farm operations, is essential. Governments have recognised this vital need as part of the totality of effective water-use... so where is it?

“On-farm investment will assist farmers to produce more food and fibre using less water and, as such, prime farms for increased climate variability, while returning large volumes of water to the environment.

“The economic benefits are also clear. On-farm infrastructure spending will boost local economies through pipe and pump retailers, earth movers and equipment dealers. Irrigators will employ local development contractors and use local equipment and labour.

“COAG has run out of time and excuses.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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