Use what we have
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.