Use what we have

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS -

Gov­ern­ments need to pri­ori­tise spend­ing on get­ting best use of ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture be­fore building new schemes, ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing group of food pro­duc­ers.

South­ern Rive­rina Ir­ri­ga­tors chair Chris Brooks said re­cent an­nounce­ments of huge gov­ern­ment spend­ing on new works was not the best use of re­sources.

‘‘Here in the New South Wales Mur­ray re­gion we have ar­guably the best grav­ity feed ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in the world, but it is ly­ing idle be­cause of poor gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

‘‘At the state elec­tion our re­gion made it abun­dantly clear that we want the mess fixed up, and the start­ing point is putting pro­duc­tive wa­ter through our sys­tem. That should be the priority of state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments,’’ Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had an­nounced it would spend $1.3 bil­lion on ma­jor re­gional wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects.

This was on top of the $4.2 bil­lion re­gional com­po­nent which the NSW Gov­ern­ment has in its cof­fers from the Snowy Hy­dro sale, most of which is ear­marked for wa­ter se­cu­rity pro­jects.

‘‘It’s all well and good want­ing to spend vast sums of money on new pro­jects, but what about first look­ing at the world-class sys­tem which isn’t be­ing used.

‘‘It seems the Mur­ray and Far­rer elec­torates are go­ing to miss out again. When are our politi­cians go­ing to wake up to the fact, we al­ready have the in­fra­struc­ture in place to grow food, but we can’t do it with­out wa­ter?

‘‘How about putting some ef­fort into stopping the Mur­ray Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity from wast­ing so much wa­ter — they’ve told us losses for this year could be 1,000 gi­gal­itres by the end of May, which is nearly dou­ble last year’s losses.

‘‘Can any­one tell me how we can jus­tify un­nat­u­ral for­est flood­ing and keep­ing end of sys­tem lakes full for yacht­ing, yet not pro­vide any wa­ter to grow food? As a na­tion, surely we’re not that dumb?’’ Mr Brooks said.

He sug­gested the sec­ond elec­toral back­lash was ‘‘just around the cor­ner’’ in the seat of Far­rer, fol­low­ing the loss by The Na­tion­als in the seats of Mur­ray and Bar­won.

‘‘Are the politi­cians not lis­ten­ing, or are they ig­nor­ing us? Damian Drum (Mem­ber for Mur­ray) and his fed­eral Na­tion­als’ col­leagues David Lit­tleproud and Barn­aby Joyce heard the anger and frus­tra­tion from our com­mu­ni­ties when they were in Mooroopna last week.

‘‘Thanks to their pre­cious Basin Plan, bil­lions of dol­lars is be­ing wasted to dis­man­tle our ef­fi­cient ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems and they do noth­ing; then they tell us there’s money for new sys­tems.

‘‘Why not use some of that money to make use of the sys­tem that ex­ists, per­haps by sub­si­dis­ing wa­ter costs for es­tab­lished farm­ers.

‘‘Of course the smart thing to do would be amend the Wa­ter Act to al­low ex­cess en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter to be sold for food pro­duc­tion, but un­for­tu­nately through­out the Basin Plan process we haven’t seen too much smart think­ing.”

Mr Brooks said he hopes the fo­cus on wa­ter fol­low­ing the NSW elec­tion would en­cour­age politi­cians to ‘‘think smarter’’ and put in place the sup­port needed that would al­low his mem­bers to get back into grow­ing food for do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional con­sump­tion.

‘‘The first step must be to use es­tab­lished in­fra­struc­ture – sys­tems that were specif­i­cally built to drought-proof western New South Wales – be­fore we look at building new sys­tems,’’ Mr Brooks em­pha­sised.

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