Big agriculture groups are benefiting more from the $13billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan than community-based groups, new research suggests.
An Australia Institute report analysed how funding is being spent. It found small irrigators and graziers have missed out on compensation for relinquishing water access.
‘‘Special deals that benefit big agribusiness are made behind closed doors while consultation with those most affected is scant and tokenistic,’’ senior water researcher Maryanne Slattery said.
Agribusiness company Webster in 2017 reached a $40million compensation deal with the Federal Government for water buybacks.
In contrast, communities across the entire NSW basin secured only $36million.
‘‘Why do the basin’s decision-makers have one way of dealing with powerful agribusiness and a different way of dealing with everyone else?’’ Ms Slattery said.
‘‘Basin governments and their agencies favour big agribusiness over the community, with community stakeholders turned away from meetings or forced into confidentiality agreements.’’
Ms Slattery said the Webster deal set a precedent and had called for compensation to be paid to all stakeholders in the Lower Darling, including native-title holders, businesses and small irrigators.
The Murray-Darling is one of the most important agricultural areas and river systems in Australia and traverses parts of South Australia, Victoria, ACT, NSW and Queensland.
The basin plan is based on managing river water extraction to ensure it is shared between users in a sustainable manner.
The institute report said the compensation payment to Websters is believed to be the first and only compensation payment made under the basin plan.
The Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project alone is estimated to contribute 106Gl to the total of water savings under the Sustainable Diversion Limits.
The Menindee Water Savings Project business case states that the removal of the high security water licences is required for the project.
The institute report found that if the Menindee Water Savings Project goes ahead, there will be less water — for both irrigation and the environment — in Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling.
‘‘This will have a fundamental impact on the lives, livelihoods and assets for all stakeholders,’’ it said.