Plan afloat

June 09, 2018

BACK TO BLACK: Farmer Peter Hall believes extended blackouts could hit his business hard.

Local advocates have welcomed resolutions to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that they say will relieve pressure on farmers worried about water supply and affordability.

Water ministers met in Canberra yesterday, agreeing 450gigalitres of water for the environment would only be delivered with the same or better social and economic outcomes.

Federal Water Minister David Littleproud declared the plan was back on track after the meeting with state counterparts.

‘‘We all took a leap of faith in one another, and the two million Australians who live in the basin can breathe easier.

‘‘It was time to show leadership and the Basin Plan is now on track,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership co-chair, Suzanna Sheed, welcomed the agreement by state water ministers.

‘‘It has been so pleasing to see the community from Cobram to Swan Hill get behind the GMID Water Leadership’s #fairflow campaign, and make their voices heard all the way to Canberra,’’ the State Member for Shepparton said.

‘‘The Basin ministers listened, and (yesterday) put politics aside in favour of a sensible and measured way forward to avoid imposing further hardship on our region, while still seeking more water for our rivers.’’

‘‘We look forward to working with the States and Commonwealth on developing a wider socio-economic impact assessment before any attempt to recover more water from the irrigation pool. It is essential the community is confident and has ownership of the revised socio-economic neutrality test.’’

GMID Water Leadership spokesman and Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said welcomed the decision.

‘‘Farmers from this region have contributed more water to the environment under the Basin Plan than any other region. The environment needs more water, but it hasn’t come cheap for our community with reduced production and losses in jobs, services industries and our town businesses,’’ he said.

‘‘We are pleased to see the Basin ministers today take our concerns about causing further hardship seriously, and step back from the brink.’’

Federal Member for Murray, Damian Drum, said the news delivered a sigh of relief for irrigations in the GMID.

‘‘The outcome of the meeting has created clarity for GMID irrigators by guaranteeing an unambiguous and clear definition of what socio-economic neutrality means to whole communities and our region,’’ he said.

Mr Drum continued: ‘‘While water policy is complex and controversial we all know that water being used for productive agriculture produces hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Goulburn and Murray Valleys. Every business, processor, service provider and employee in our community benefits from every dollar made in agriculture.

Mr Littleproud said more work defining what is meant by neutral or positive social and economic outcomes was expected to be done by Christmas.

‘‘In the meantime, let’s get cracking on the off-farm, urban and industrial projects and begin delivering water towards the 450Gl total from those projects,’’ the minister said.

The future of the plan was thrown into doubt earlier in the year when federal Labor blocked changes which would have given more water to irrigators in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

But a deal between the government and the opposition salvaged the plan, with the agreement of the 450Gl of environmental water central to ending the impasse.

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