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D-Day for Basin Authority, says new NFF paper

5 October 2010

TODAY the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) drew a line in the sand for the federal government and its Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), releasing a blueprint for what the guide to the Basin Plan must contain come Friday.

The Basin Plan: what it needs to address, an Issues Paper released today by the NFF (downloadable below), sets the benchmark by which farmers will judge the MDBA’s draft water reform proposals.

It will also form the basis for the peak farm body to press the need for political solutions with Federal Water Minister Tony Burke from Friday.

“The so-called guide to the Basin Plan, due this Friday, has been two years in the making, so we’re expecting the MDBA to provide a full account of its modelling (and the assumptions underpinning it), its rationale for any new water caps and detailed analysis of all the options that have been exhausted in arriving at any water cuts,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“The MDBA must demonstrate that it has conducted an extensive audit of all available water in the Basin. That includes all environmental water. The NFF is concerned that some so-called environmental water will effectively be quarantined from the MDBA calculations and, thereby, place a higher, undue burden on farms and communities.

“We’ve continually insisted with the MDBA and two Federal Water Ministers (Wong and now Burke) that holistic solutions are essential. That is, that the MDBA must explore water-saving technologies, such as engineering options, as part of the mix, thereby minimising the need for wholesale cuts.

“We also expect the MDBA to identify the environmental assets it is earmarking for saving and quantify the amount of water necessary to preserve them. This must, necessarily, include explanation of what environmental trade-offs have been made to arrive at this final priority list.

“We will also be looking for the MDBA to have undertaken an in-depth economic and social impacts study, quantifying the costs of any cuts it seeks to impose on farmers and regional communities. More than enough time has elapsed for the MDBA to get this vital work done and provide detailed undertakings to mitigate and minimise these impacts.

“Will the MDBA facilitate ‘temporary diversion provisions’? That is, establish a smooth transition from existing caps to new caps by gradually phasing them in. Given the Water Act 2007 stipulates that a transition phase is possible, it is reasonable to expect the MDBA to canvass these options upfront on 8 October.

“Finally, the buck stops with Minister Burke. There is a misconception that the MDBA is the final decision-maker. It is not. The final decision rests entirely with the Federal Water Minister. Soon after the MDBA releases its guide, we expect the Minister to make the Government’s intentions known.

“The MDBA needs to get this right. If not, we risk setting water reform back to square one – something that would see farmers, environmental groups and affected communities justifiably irate.”

[ENDS]

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