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Farmers say Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists need a reality-check

26 June 2017

National Farmers' Federation (NFF) Vice President and Water Taskforce Chair Les Gordon today encouraged the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists to take a dose of reality when commenting on the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"The Wentworth Group talks of the Basin Plan as if it was struck and frozen in time, when in fact the very foundation of the plan is the principle of adaptive management," Mr Gordon said.

"The Group’s paper, released today, is full of inaccuracies and half-truths and we cannot stand by and let the record go uncorrected."

In the paper, the Wentworth Group proclaim the plan has a fixed water recovery target of 3200 gigalitres (GL). 

"This is just not the case," Mr Gordon said. 

"The Basin Plan has always had provisions for governments to adjust the target for water recovery if they could find better ways of doing things to achieve the same intended outcomes. 

"This includes the opportunity to reduce recovery down by 650GL if it can be shown that the same environmental outcomes can be achieved with less water."

The Wentworth Group criticises Governments for walking away from the CSIRO’s environmental equivalence test when revising water recovery targets.

This is despite the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council’s agreement that water recovery could be scaled back by at least 600GL using this very approach.

Similarly, the water recovery target can be increased up by 450GL under the Plan, where it can be demonstrated that there is a neutral or beneficial socio-economic impact. 

Mr Gordon said Basin Governments were working hard to find an approach that would enable them to meet the neutrality test by commissioning experts to develop a realistic methodology to enable this to happen.

"The Wentworth Group argue that water recovery has slowed to a trickle – and yet last week we saw the Commonwealth purchase 21.9GL of water entitlement from Tandou in the Lower Darling.

"This will contribute another 17.8GL in long-term, average real water to the coffers of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder,"" Mr Gordon said. 
The Wentworth Group accuse State Governments of falling short of target daily flow rates – yet what we know from ground-truthing, is that the rates first proposed by the MDBA in 2013 were divorced from both the reality of the floodplain, and the legal restrictions on river operators to prevent damage to private property and community safety. 

Importantly, Mr Gordon said Basin Governments had recently re-committed to engaging closely with floodplain landholders to negotiate opportunities to ease constraints by obtaining easements to enable the delivery of environmental water more effectively.

"If the Wentworth Group is – as they claim to be – putting Basin communities at the centre of reform – we suggest they come and talk to those people who are impacted by the implementation of the Basin Plan," Mr Gordon said.

"Rather than throwing hand grenades of mistruths into the media, come and meet us in Dirranbandi, Wakool, Shepparton, Moree or Warren, and ask the community what is important to them. 

“I reckon they will hear the message that a thriving agriculture sector is absolutely crucial to the long term success of their community.

“NFF will unashamedly stand up for what is best for our sector. 

"Our long-held view is that Basin Governments must implement the plan in a credible way, but in doing that, take the path that has the least impact on the social and economic fabric of our communities," Mr Gordon said. 

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