Claims not true

Some peo­ple favour the si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­trolled flood­ing of thou­sands of prop­er­ties along the banks of the Goul­burn, Mur­ray, Ed­wards and Wakool rivers. Vic­to­rian Shadow Wa­ter Min­is­ter and Na­tion­als deputy leader Steph Ryan has re­sponded to an ar­ti­cle publi

Shepparton News - Country News - - OPINION -

Vic­to­rian and NSW river­ine land­hold­ers and farm­ers re­cently found them­selves yet again dragged through the mud — this time in the broad­sheet pages of The Age and The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald — by the Went­worth Group of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist group.

For these land­hold­ers and farm­ers, the mem­ory of record floods in Septem­ber 2016 are in­cred­i­bly re­cent and raw. A fact the Fair­fax re­porter failed to men­tion in her re­port and, quite pos­si­bly, of which she was com­pletely un­aware.

While the ar­ti­cle painted the Went­worth Group as re­spon­si­ble in­de­pen­dent ad­vo­cates, ‘‘re­cal­ci­trant land­hold­ers’’ were the en­vi­ron­men­tal van­dals stand­ing in the way of im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan.

Noth­ing could be more of­fen­sive and un­true.

Basin com­mu­ni­ties are liv­ing through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the basin plan — wa­ter re­cov­ery, re­struc­tur­ing of re­gional economies, grow­ing farm sizes, shrink­ing pop­u­la­tions.

The past five years, tacked on the back of the mil­len­nium drought and ne­go­ti­a­tion of the basin plan, have been tough for ir­ri­ga­tors and ir­ri­ga­tion de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties.

To date, more than 2000 Gl of wa­ter has been re­cov­ered to­wards the 2750 Gl basin plan tar­get. This wa­ter is no longer put to­wards agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, but de­liv­ered to rivers and wet­lands for the ben­e­fit of the en­vi­ron­ment.

The Went­worth Group op­poses the 2750 Gl tar­get. They even op­posed a pro­posed 3200 Gl tar­get. The Went­worth Group ar­gued that be­tween 3856 Gl and 6983 Gl should be re­cov­ered from agri­cul­ture for the en­vi­ron­ment.

Such a vol­ume would have de­stroyed our basin com­mu­ni­ties.

The Went­worth Group are good at sug­gest­ing all farm­ers and politi­cians who don’t sub­scribe to their point of view are en­vi­ron­men­tal van­dals. This is sim­ply not true. I care deeply about the health of our rivers but I also un­der­stand the need to bal­ance this with the needs of our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties who rely on the river for their health and liveli­hoods, and the needs of our farm­ing in­dus­tries.

The Fair­fax ar­ti­cle re­ferred to ‘‘re­cal­ci­trant land­hold­ers’’ who were pre­vent­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of a con­straints man­age­ment strat­egy to al­low ‘‘mi­nor man­aged flood­ing’’.

That all sounds very in­no­cent to the reader sit­ting in St Kilda or Brunswick.

In truth, what is in­volved is the si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­trolled flood­ing of thou­sands of prop­er­ties along the banks of the Goul­burn, Mur­ray, Ed­wards and Wakool rivers. Crops and pas­tures de­stroyed, fences dam­aged, ac­cess cut off.

The Went­worth Group would have you be­lieve that this land never floods. But, since 2010 the South­ern Mur­ray Dar­ling Basin has ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of nat­u­ral flood events, re­sult­ing in sig­nif­i­cant over-bank flows.

The most re­cent of these broke records. The Septem­ber 2016 flood filled the Barmah For­est and sent thou­sands of gi­gal­itres down the Mur­ray River into the Lower Lakes. At the same time these floods caused sig­nif­i­cant de­struc­tion for land­hold­ers who graze and crop our river val­leys.

These farm­ers are aware of the risks as­so­ci­ated with farm­ing this land. They watch dam lev­els, river heights and rain fore­casts closely, ready to pull up pumps and move stock to higher ground if there is a risk of flood.

In ex­change for this risk these farm­ers reap the re­wards of al­lu­vial soils. Such is the na­ture of flood­plain farm­ing.

What these land­hold­ers are not pre­pared to ac­cept is the planned and or­ches­trated in­un­da­tion of their pro­duc­tive land with­out ap­pro­pri­ate com­pen­sa­tion and adop­tion of li­a­bil­ity by the Com­mon­wealth.

In my new re­spon­si­bil­ity as Shadow Min­is­ter for Wa­ter in Vic­to­ria I’ll ap­proach basin plan is­sues in a bal­anced man­ner, but I won’t sit idly by while our ir­ri­ga­tors and farm­ers get rub­bished in the metropoli­tan me­dia.

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