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Senators urged to look beyond flawed Basin Guide

22 December 2010

NATIONAL Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie is calling on members of a Senate Inquiry to use the Christmas break to rethink water policy and adopt a far more holistic approach to shoring up the needs of farmers, regional communities and the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In lodging the NFF’s submission with the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Standing Committee Inquiry into the Management of the Murray-Darling Basin today, Mr Laurie reaffirmed its decade long advocacy for water reform in Australia.

“If done properly, a new Basin Plan can be a positive force for building on environmentally sustainable farming, an area where Australian farmers have excelled,” he said. “In fact, over 94% of our farmers actively practise natural resource management as a matter-of-course, recognising that the health of their farm is inextricably linked to the environment around them.

“But the draft Guide to the Basin Plan, as it stands, cannot deliver on this intent. The NFF has exposed critical flaws in the Guide, which we provided to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority last week, so our advice to the Senate Inquiry today is the Guide cannot be salvaged as a basis for moving forward and we need a new approach.

“We need a fundamental shift in how the Basin Plan is being thought about, let alone developed, to ensure it is inclusive of Basin communities. That’s not a ‘feel good’ desire, but goes to the very heart of reform… without farmers and regional communities owning changes in the Basin, those changes will never see the light of day.

“Further, the Federal Government must find a way to engage state governments and local communities. Otherwise, the Federal Government risks the withdrawal of state backing for any Basin Plan at all.

“Upfront there needs to be a sensible examination and prioritisation of environmental outcomes the Basin Plan seeks to achieve, with a mature assessment of what environmental assets are key and what are the trade-offs. That must be the starting point to any further discussion. Once we know the focus, only then can any of us evaluate smart ways to deliver these outcomes that ensure farm production and regional communities are sustainable.

“Senators, indeed the Government, must come to grips with the reality that the Basin Plan is not an end in itself. Any eventual Basin Plan must be backed-up by major infrastructure – on-farm, through irrigation systems and environmental works – as well as bolstering research and development so farmers have the capacity to change production methods accordingly.

“This holistic view of the Basin, its water, its people, its production and its environmental assets, is needed sooner rather than later.

“We are already developing aspects of this as part of water reform, such as water markets, but these must be transparent and used in sequence with an overall package. The National Water Commission’s report into Australia’s water markets, released yesterday, is a worthwhile contribution.

“Australian farmers will work constructively with the Government and all parliamentarians to progress water reform in Australia, but we will not stand by and let a flawed Guide translate into the destruction of communities and industries – let alone when there are better and smarter ways of delivering the same result.”

The NFF submission is available at: Submissions to Government.

[ENDS]

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