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Election 2019: Burke's MDB plans are 'concerning', warns NFF

9 May 2019

The National Farmers' Federation has acknowledged a comprehensive media statement from Labor's Water Spokesperson, Tony Burke regarding the Party's intentions for the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"Mr Burke's statement contains a number of measures that are agreed across the political spectrum, and mostly consistent with the Productivity Commission and or the scientific fish death reports," NFF Water Taskforce Chair Les Gordon said.

"While we endorse the vast majority of measures outlined by Mr Burke there are a few that are cause for real concern.

"The NFF does not support the removal of the Murray Darling Ministerial Council agreed additional socio-economic test for the 450GL. This is designed to ensure that the devastating effects on rural communities from the removal of consumptive water are mitigated as much as possible.

"We suspect this 'idea' would also not be supported by Basin state ministers. Basin ministers appreciate that the impact of water buybacks is already hurting and requiring the 450GL from on-farm would significantly add to this pain. Triple bottom line assessments must remain a feature of this program."

Mr Gordon said the NFF also did not support lifting the 1500GL buyback cap.

"It is too early to do this, there is still scope for buybacks under the cap of about 250GL, any further consideration of buybacks cannot be done until the 605GL constraints measures are reconciled in 2023.

"Time must be allowed to consult on and implement those measures. Further, at no point should 450GL measures be done in the context of buybacks, there are rules to be met and buybacks do not facilitate this.

"Buybacks are hurting, especially in the context of drought, patterns of water use under the plan are changing, and we need to understand and realign policy for that. The current water market is causing real impacts, and we support further discussion on how that can be better addressed."

The NFF is also not convinced that the inclusion of the compliance arm of the MDBA should be part of a new Federal Environmental Protection Authority.

"Leaving aside our separate, and stated, concern of what the EPA might look like and do, water regulation is a quite specific skill set not necessarily enabled by a broader environmental law compliance regime."

Mr Gordon noted a significant community shift towards proposals such as 'pausing the Plan' and that the support of a number of independent candidates for this call to arms was concerning.

"In a scenario where both major parties broadly support the Plan it is difficult to see how these agents of change will have influence.

"At the NFF and Victorian Farmers Federation candidates meeting in Shepparton earlier this week the Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Australia, Lisa Chesters said independent candidates were providing cheap rhetoric by calling for the abolition of the Plan and that such positioning was really unfair on communities.

"We say again, the Plan is not perfect. On its drafting not everyone got everything they wanted nor did anybody lose everything. Nor was it designed to be static. It's a dynamic tool, that should be tweaked and enhanced following lived experience.

"The NFF believes the Productivity Commission and other recent independent reports provide a strong framework for realigning the Plan. There is a workplan being developed and we should be focussed on delivering that.

"In response to Mr Burke's consistent attempts to unwind the recent progress of the Plan I remind him that, if appointed Minister, he has an obligation to govern for the whole Basin and for all stakeholders, not just for the few," Mr Gordon said.

Explore our Agriculture: Growing Australian election priorities at farmers.org.au.

Media Enquiries: Laureta Wallace
0408 448 250

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