PM sends 100GL of help down the river

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - ROSIE LEWIS

Scott Mor­ri­son has sought to en­sure the sur­vival of farm­ers’ breed­ing stock by re­leas­ing 100 gi­gal­itres of wa­ter along the Mur­ray River at a dis­counted price to grow fod­der and pas­ture, un­der a land­mark drought deal that has ap­peased some farm­ers and re­gional Coali­tion MPs.

Up to 6000 farm­ers across South Aus­tralia, NSW and Vic­to­ria are ex­pected to buy the wa­ter for as lit­tle as 10 per cent of the mar­ket price to pro­duce up to 120,000 tonnes of feed for an­i­mals.

Un­der the plan, un­veiled with a suite of mea­sures worth about $2bn fol­low­ing in­creased pres­sure over the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the drought, 100GL of Mur­ray River wa­ter held in stor­age up­stream will be of­fered to farm­ers in the south­ern basin.

In re­turn, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will give South Aus­tralia $10m in drought re­silience fund­ing and re­place the wa­ter taken out of the Mur­ray by fir­ing up the state’s de­sali­na­tion plant, which is ex­pected to pro­duce 100GL in the next 20 months at a cost of $88.4m.

The Prime Min­is­ter said many of the farm­ers along the Mur­ray had seen wa­ter “go­ing by their prop­er­ties”. “This will put them to work, to help those

farm­ers help other farm­ers when it comes to grow­ing the fod­der that our drought-af­fected farm­ers are go­ing to need,” Mr Mor­ri­son said.

“This is a prac­ti­cal mea­sure which both deals with the hard­ship along the Mur­ray but, im­por­tantly, deals with mak­ing avail­able more fod­der, putting more into the sys­tem, so there’s more avail­able to those breed­ing stock which des­per­ately need it.”

Lib­eral MP Tony Pasin, who chairs the Coali­tion’s back­bench agri­cul­ture com­mit­tee and whose South Aus­tralian elec­torate of Barker is home to beef and dairy cat­tle, de­clared it a “smart way” of keep­ing the breed­ing herd alive. “(Mr Mor­ri­son’s) found a way to de­liver rev­enue to some of the worst af­fected farm­ers by al­low­ing them to pro­duce fod­der crops. It’s been well re­ceived,” he said.

The Na­tional Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion said the com­mit­ment to feed live­stock through po­ten­tially en­dur­ing drought con­di­tions was sound and called for more de­tail on how the wa­ter would be man­aged and al­lo­cated.

While the gov­ern­ment is still fi­nal­is­ing the wa­ter ar­range­ments, it is ex­pected the 4000 to 6000 farm­ers likely to be el­i­gi­ble could be able to buy as much as 25 me­gal­itres of wa­ter each. The mar­ket price for wa­ter is be­tween $700 and $1000 per me­gal­itre, mean­ing they could buy the wa­ter for $100 a me­gal­itre or less.

In an­other new drought fund­ing an­nounce­ment, schools fac­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship will be given $10m to go to­wards pay­ing for stu­dent fees, of­fer­ing text­books and uni­forms, and even pro­vid­ing coun­selling, while child­care cen­tres will re­ceive $5m.

The drought pack­age also in­cluded $1bn for con­ces­sional loans for small busi­nesses de­pen­dent on agri­cul­ture and farm­ers, the first two years of which will be in­ter­est-free, $138.9m in ad­di­tional roads-to-re­cov­ery fund­ing for lo­cal coun­cils and a re­di­rect­ion of $200m to sup­port new projects in drought-af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.

For­mer Na­tion­als leader Barn­aby Joyce said the pack­age recog­nised that drought did not just af­fect farms but peo­ple in towns. He de­clared there was real merit in re­leas­ing the wa­ter for fod­der.

“It ac­knowl­edges there’s now a crit­i­cal eco­nomic need that is greater than the crit­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal need,” Mr Joyce said.

“If there’s a triple bot­tom line be­tween so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, then how does that jus­tify flood­ing the for­est and starv­ing the peo­ple?”

South Aus­tralian Greens sen­a­tor Sarah Han­son-Young ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of cut

‘It ac­knowl­edges there’s now a crit­i­cal eco­nomic need that is greater than the crit­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal need’


ting the state’s river wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion and said she was wor­ried there would be less wa­ter down­stream and higher wa­ter prices in Ade­laide.

Mr Mor­ri­son said there was a “net zero im­pact” on South Aus­tralia be­cause the wa­ter be­ing of­fered to farm­ers was be­ing re­placed and the cost of pro­duc­ing ad­di­tional wa­ter out of its desal plant would be met by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

If in the un­likely sce­nario South Aus­tralia de­cides that the desal plant can­not pro­duce the full 100GL quota, the gov­ern­ment will con­sider as a con­tin­gency tak­ing wa­ter out of the Snowy Hy­dro scheme to of­fer farm­ers.

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