Producers call for Royal Commission
There is rare agreement between two groups which have generally been on opposite sides of the water policy debate.
Food and fibre producers in the NSW Murray region are supporting the latest calls from South Australians, in particular their parochial Senator Nick Xenophon, for investigations into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s implementation.
He has again called for a Royal Commission into aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, with fellow state Senator Sarah Hanson-Young requesting a review of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which is implementing the plan.
It follows an ABC report last week that revealed further problems with the Basin Plan and claimed there was a failure of the MDBA to listen to the concerns of affected farmers.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle, who represents 1,600 food and fibre producers, said there had been calls from this region for a Royal Commission for nearly two years.
‘‘At last we have something in common with South Australia, as people from various parts of the basin start to appreciate the ongoing refusal of the Murray Darling Basin Authority to listen to the concerns of locals, including farmers,’’ Mr Pyle said.
‘‘To get the best outcomes, the MDBA and governments need to work on positive solutions with those most affected by the plan.
‘‘Ensuring we have good water policy to allow for production is paramount for our regional communities, our nation, and the starving people throughout the world who we are able to feed.
‘‘But trying to develop good water policy has been ignored over the past decade, and as a result we now have groups and individuals from throughout the Basin start- ing to appreciate that this plan is far from balanced.’’
Mr Pyle said any Royal Commission or inquiry needs to look at the entire plan and its impact across the entire basin, not limited to a single issue in one area.
‘‘Governments have struggled to understand the importance of affordable and reliable productive water, including the flow-on effects to regional communities.
‘‘A productive agricultural sector creates jobs, from spraying, sowing, fencing and baling contractors, to truck drivers, bookkeepers, hairdressers and the local restaurant and supermarket.
‘‘We all acknowledge that a Basin Plan is needed — what we want is a consultative and collaborative approach that develops a balanced plan which supports the environ- ment, as well as food and fibre production. So far, that hasn’t happened.’’
Mr Pyle added that for the past 10 years, since the 2007 Water Act, farmers and rural communities have bent over backwards to be part of the process, but have continually been ignored.
‘‘Regional communities have been warning governments and the MDBA about adverse impacts of the plan, but they fall on deaf ears. Those who live and breathe the system have the knowledge and experience to help provide solutions.’’
Mr Pyle said few people understand the potential third party impacts, including environmental damage, from high flows under the plan.
‘‘We would welcome a visit by politicians from all persuasions so they can be shown what the ‘just add water’ approach is doing to our system.’’
Mr Pyle said a current issue around general security water allocations is further proof of the need for adjustments to water policy.
‘‘At present my members are on a 20 percent allocation, while at the same time there are concerns about flooding, with both Hum and Dartmouth Dams more than 80 percent full.
‘‘How ludicrous is that . . . amid flood fears our food and fibre producers are allocated a fifth of their entitlements. Surely this tells our governments that water sharing rules must be addressed.
‘‘It is yet another issue in a fundamentally flawed Basin Plan that risks going down in history as a waste of $13 billion of taxpayers’ money.’’