The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources was given strong messages that rural communities cannot absorb any more irrigation water losses, at a series of hastily arranged consultation meetings around the region last week.
The department has also earned itself a rebuke from its own minister for not giving communities enough notice of the meetings.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said some communities visited during the initial stage of Murray-Darling Basin Plan consultations and had complained of short notice, not being informed or the address for the venue not being published on the web.
Mr Littleproud said this was disappointing and he had ordered the department to go back again where communities felt they had not been heard.
‘‘I’m not surprised complaints were received about this,’’ Mr Littleproud said.
‘‘Getting this neutrality test right is vital to the basin plan. We need to be dead sure there are no negative impacts from water recovery.’’
Most farmers attending a consultation meeting in Shepparton last week argued the loss of more water under the basin plan could not be tolerated and that the transfer of an additional 450 Gl would cause harm. Farmers attending the meetings have been alarmed that it appears the extra 450 Gl was likely to be forfeited.
VFF Water Council president Richard Anderson said the large turnout of farmers, despite in some cases getting only a few days’ notice, demonstrated the high level of concern about the water recovery proposal.
‘‘We have been telling the Commonwealth for many years now that reducing the consumptive pool is damaging our communities,’’ Mr Anderson said.
‘‘Even data published by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority shows over 5000 jobs have been lost in Victoria alone.
‘‘Our messages are clear; getting the extra 450 Gl through on-farm efficiency measures will reduce the consumptive pool, drive up the price of water and flood communities when they attempt to deliver it.
‘‘We believe 1 Gl for onfarm projects anywhere in the southern basin would hurt communities, let alone 400 Gl.’’
Overwhelmingly, farmers emphasised that participating in previous onfarm projects requiring transfer of water to the Commonwealth had hurt their business.
They indicated they were now more reliant on temporary water.
‘‘Rather than trying to assess the community and cumulative impact of water recovery project by project, the whole 450 Gl needs to be subjected to a test to see if communities can take any further recovery,’’ Mr Anderson said. ■ A community consultation meeting will take place at the Deniliquin Golf Club at 1 Golf Club Rd on Friday, November 2 from noon. ■ To register your interest in attending the meeting, email: firstname.lastname@example.org