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Stakes high in Government's water reform gambit

23 June 2010

“FARMERS and irrigators are on a knife-edge awaiting the release of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan next month,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today as the peak farm body’s Members’ Council met in Canberra and asserted that water policy is the top priority for farmers.

“The Government must get this right. Australia must ensure that the region producing 40% of the country’s food can continue to be a viable and vital part of meeting our growing population’s most basic need.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Government must ensure a balance between productive, community and environmental needs. There must not be any skewed focus away from agriculture and the communities it supports. We will be going through the Plan with a fine-tooth comb.

“The NFF has been working in good faith with the Government on the Basin Plan and we can only hope those efforts have not been in vain. We will continue to be constructive, but today’s meeting of NFF members in Canberra serves as a timely reminder of the high stakes at play.

“The uncertainty and anxiety being experienced by farmers and regional communities ahead of the draft Basin Plan’s release is palpable.”

The NFF says that for it to accept the draft Basin Plan, the MDBA and Federal Government must:

  • Ensure the draft Plan is balanced – taking equitable account of farm production, regional community and environmental needs.
  • Enshrine a rigorous and transparent consultation process on the draft Plan.
  • Allow an independent Review of the models and assumptions used to calculate the new draft Sustainable Diversion limits (or caps) on water extraction.
  • Commit to work with farmers and irrigators on the myriad of technical issues contained within the Plan – for example, what environmental water will be counted as contributing toward new caps and whether smart engineering solutions can be funded up front to reduce the impact on irrigators?
  • Provide genuine support to regional communities through any changes, working with the farm lobby on polices achieve a smooth transition.

“Many of the communities within the Basin were encouraged to invest and develop over many years by all governments,” Mr Crombie emphasised. “The farms, businesses, jobs, and the families that rely on them, must not be abandoned and hung out to dry.

“NFF members were crystal clear today on just how much feeling there is in regional Australia about the draft Plan. The next few months will determine whether water reform in Australia deteriorates beyond repair.”

[ENDS]

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