It’s time to focus on protecting communities?

June 16, 2018

Governments have a legislated commitment under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to the health, welfare and prosperity of regional communities.

So following this month’s meeting of Water Ministers, which took decisive action to halt the removal of productive water, there needs to be ongoing focus on their future.

Wakool food producer Darcy Hare has seen the social and economic damage in his community, caused directly by the Basin Plan.

“To this point, the welfare of communities has not been protected – this is being highlighted in report after report, but largely ignored. That must stop.”

Mr Hare said the Water Act (amendment) Bill in 2012 which legislated the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was quite clear, stating “water will be recovered in a way that meets the requirements of the Basin Plan that there are no negative social or economic impacts on Basin communities”.

“At the time, Water Minister Tony Burke reinforced the message that the additional 450 gigalitres of ‘up water’ would only be recovered with positive or neutral economic damage. He made this watertight, legislated commitment.

“There was an additional explanatory memorandum circulated which stated funds had been appropriated ‘to enable water to be recovered and constraints to be removed without negatively impacting on the wellbeing of communities in the Basin’.

“The challenge now for Governments and the MDBA is to investigate and find options that achieve ecological outcomes without acquiring more water entitlements. If they don’t rise to this challenge we will see further damage to our rural communities,” Mr Hare said.

He suggested the key around Government promises which needs greater consideration is the commitment to consider ‘wellbeing’ of communities.

“My dictionary tells me ‘wellbeing’ is ‘characterized by health, happiness and prosperity’. With the overwhelming evidence that continues to surface, it is obvious this ‘health, happiness and prosperity’ promise needs to take higher priority.

“The most recent independent report, released by the Murray River Group of Councils, expresses concerns about the mental health and stress that has been placed on communities as a result of the Basin Plan.

“Other reports, including those from the MDBA, tell a sad tale about massive population and job losses, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production every year.

“In my home of Wakool the population decline has been estimated by the MDBA at around 50 per cent, and job losses are at a similar level.

“It’s time to turn this all around. I accept this will be a huge challenge for the MDBA and Governments, but it is not insurmountable. I firmly believe we can achieve a healthy environment – which we all want – without sacrificing our rural communities.

“We need to approach this aim with a ‘can do’ attitude – we need fresh reports on the amount of water needed for environmental purposes and the best way to deliver it, as well as taking a fresh look at infrastructure works that can help the Coorong and Lower Lakes.

“Importantly, those responsible for the Basin Plan at all levels would benefit by working collaboratively with local people and taking more notice of their knowledge and experience.

“It’s amazing what can be achieved by working together – it’s time to take this big step,” Mr Hare said.

For further information or interviews: Darcy Hare phone 0437794723 or email [email protected]

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