A series of community economic profiles released by Murray-Darling Basin Authority has highlighted a dramatic loss of employment among irrigation-dependant communities, according to State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed.
Released by the authority two weeks ago, the data tracks population and employment figures in irrigation-dependent communities over 15 years.
The research found the population across all towns had increased, but the agricultural workforce declined. According to the research, the irrigation workforce in Shepparton slumped 23.4 per cent between 2001 and 2011, and a further 17.3 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
Ms Sheed said it showed recovery following the millennium drought had not returned to its normal level and that jobs had continued to ‘‘bleed away’’ from the sector following the implementation of the basin plan.
‘‘Certainly broader challenges affecting industries such as dairy have played a role, but the link between reduced water availability as a result of the plan and reduced employment in irrigated farming can not be overlooked,’’ she said.
Ms Sheed said the data did not reflect the increasingly precarious position of local farmers and the level of debt some were in or the shrinking capacity to protect themselves against future water recovery.
‘‘This data is only based on high-level population and employment information from recent Censuses and ABS records and so it can not capture the lived reality in our communities,’’ Ms Sheed said.
‘‘Most critically, it does not reflect the despair of some farmers still in the game who are now feeling they’re being forced out of an industry they love — an industry central to Australians being able to enjoy continued access to high-quality fresh food — because their access to water has been so severely hindered.
‘‘Our community has been very vocal about the serious social and economic impact it’s experiencing and our well-founded fears about the effect of further water recovery, so I look forward to seeing those views well reflected in future MDBA analysis.’’