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NFF says the time has come for realistic Basin Plan discussions

16 March 2017

National Farmers’ Federation Vice President Les Gordon will attend a roundtable of State and Commonwealth Water Ministers in Mildura this evening, ahead of their Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting on Friday.

Mr Gordon said that NFF’s message to Ministers was clear – get on with the job of implementing the Basin Plan to give farmers, industries and communities certainty for the future, but do it in a way that avoids inflicting further negative impacts on communities and industries.

“It’s time for Ministers to shift their focus from a debate about purely the volume of water to be recovered from productive agriculture, to a debate about how we deliver the outcomes that the plan was intended in achieve.

“Key to this is the need for a sensible negotiation around the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustments,” Mr Gordon said.

The ‘adjustment mechanism’ in the Basin Plan enables Ministers to make decisions to deliver better and more efficient environmental outcomes, so long as these will have neutral or improved socio-economic impacts.

Mr Gordon said all the available evidence was suggesting that the current rigid settings in the plan just cannot meet the outcomes set out in the plan.

“Independent analysis of impacts in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District in Victoria released last year highlighted that reduced water availability is already costing $550 million a year in lost regional production, with impacts likely to effectively double if Ministers don’t get the adjustment mechanism right.

“And just this week, NSW Minister Niall Blair released an independent report on the ‘socio-economic neutrality test’ that demonstrates the need for an alternative approach to enable the broad-range of costs and benefits of any additional water recovery to be systematically examined.

“It is crucial that Ministers have a detailed and real conversation about what can and can’t be delivered in terms of flow rates.

“Last spring, we saw farmers and communities mopping up a reported $1.7 billion damage bill to roads and crops in the NSW Murray alone – after a ‘moderate’ flow event in the Mid-Murray.”

The NFF is hopeful Ministers will formally acknowledge the advice of the Murray Darling Basin Authority in relation to the Northern Basin Review.

“While we don’t think the Authority has gone far enough in lowering the recovery target from 390 GL to 320 GL, we do support their recommendation that Governments should be investing in non-flow measures to improve environmental outcomes.

“We also strongly support the MDBA’s view that the proposed changes to the recovery target in the Northern Basin will have no material impact on the southern connected system,” Mr Gordon said.

Farmers and irrigation communities in the Murray-Darling Basin have been subjected to a continuous process of water reform for more than two decades. At this meeting, Ministers must agree on the path to finally put this plan to bed and let us get on with the job of producing quality food and fibre, Mr Gordon said.

He said Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement today to investigate the expansion of the Snowy Hydro Scheme was also likely to be a subject of much discussion.

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