The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Food needs water

- With Libby Price

You’ve no doubt seen the footage of hundreds of people taking to the streets simultaneo­usly across the southern Riverina in Deniliquin, Leeton and Griffith last week.

It was yet another protest against the Murray-darling Basin Plan.

I well remember irrigators burning copies of the original basin plan back in 2010. I was quite shocked at the time.

Fast forward nine years and another anti-basin plan at Tocumwal saw an effigy of the then Water Minister David Littleprou­d thrown into the Murray River.

I was again quite shocked and, frankly, didn’t think it funny or appropriat­e.

Somewhat ironically, now in Opposition, Littleprou­d is dancing to the tune of the very people who threw the ‘David dummy’ into the mighty Murray.

I have a friend, a Wimmera farmer, who says he is so sick of hearing stories on Country Today about the ‘bloody plan’, although he agrees it is newsworthy and very important.

It just doesn’t seem relevant to him.

He was shocked when I said: “Look up a map. Your property is in the basin. You might not be an irrigator, but you are in the basin.”

Not only that, but there are also plenty of people and businesses which own water who do not live anywhere near the basin.

Another misconcept­ion is that the plan was legislated by a Labor government.

The plan was the vision of the Howard Coalition government.

It was on the tail end of the millennium drought and Deputy PM and leader of the Nationals John Anderson created the National Water Initiative in 2004, which substantia­lly changed the ownership of water.

“The NWI represents a shared commitment by government­s to increase the efficiency of Australia’s water use, leading to greater certainty for investment and productivi­ty, for rural and urban communitie­s, and for the environmen­t,” the Department

of Agricultur­e said at the time.

I recently ran into John Anderson and reminded him of the NWI and how it led to the Murray-darling Basin Plan.

He said he was still ‘mortified’ by what has happened since.

It was the previous Labor government under the then Water Minister Tony Burke who signed the plan into law in 2012.

Interestin­gly, the legislatio­n had some leeway: the 2750 gigalitre target to return water to the environmen­t could be reduced if there were other ways to make water savings.

As it is in politics, the current government blames all the problems on the previous government.

Tanya Plibersek is Water and Environmen­t Minister, which in itself gives a clear indication of how the Albanese government is prioritisi­ng the environmen­t over agricultur­e.

She is extending the basin plan to make sure it delivers, but at what cost?

I am at a loss to come up with a compromise.

In the words of one of the new irrigation campaigner­s, Natalie Akers, food needs water.

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