The Murray-Darling Basin Plan changes announced this week by Water Minister Tanya Plibersek has been described as “an absolute disaster, not only for farmers and rural communities, but for the entire nation”.
And it highlights a significant lack of understanding about water policy and management by Ms Plibersek, according to Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association representative Jan Beer.
Few people have studied water management in the Basin to the extent of Mrs Beer, who has decades of lived experience, as well as closely studying and monitoring how this precious resource is used.
As such, she is devastated when someone like Ms Plibersek, with a city-based upbringing and no involvement in the complex water area until last year, makes decisions which decimate livelihoods and are obviously focused on achieving political mileage, not environmental benefit.
She also asks why the Albanese Government would renege on previous commitments, including promises that water buybacks would not occur if there were adverse social and economic impacts.
“This has now been thrown out by Ms Plibersek, who is prepared to destroy farmers and communities for no reason other than political gain. She talks about threatened species, though in reality this is not the flora and fauna she mentions, rather the threatened species is our food producers,” Mrs Beer said.
“Also under threat is Australia’s food security. She is taking water from the regions which produce our core staple foods such as dairy products, rice, fruit, milling wheat for bread and baker products, plus our stock fodder supplies. When growing this produce declines, which is inevitable, the cost at the supermarket will continue to rise and we then have another broken Albanese Government promise, which was to address the cost of living crisis.
“Or perhaps this is too difficult to grasp for politicians like Ms Plibersek who were born, educated and now live in Sydney. They don’t understand water or the environment, nor what is required to achieve an effective balance between productive and environmental needs.”
Mrs Beer said there is a significant lack of understanding around volumes of water needed for environmental purposes, and what has already been recovered.
“The scientific studies told us that 2,750 gigalitres were needed for the environment, and under the Basin Plan an additional 450 gigalitres were added after South Australia refused to sign the plan without it, but it was not part of the original plan.
“The MDBA’s 2020-2021 Water Take Report tells us that environmental water holders already have more than 4,600 gigalitres, acquired through various government programs. So how much do they want and how much can they use?
“Ms Plibersek fails to mention deliverability, but if she had a better understanding of water management she would appreciate that it is not possible to deliver downstream the volumes of water outlined in the Basin Plan to achieve proposed ‘enhanced environmental outcomes’ without creating major flood impacts that will cause massive damage to public and private infrastructure.
“The fact is, the water will have to be stored in the upper catchments – Eildon, Hume and Dartmouth – with a subsequent increase in flooding risk when we have the inevitable unexpected rain events.”
Mrs Beer said it is difficult to retain faith in our political system when decisions like the Basin Plan update are so obviously based on politics and money.
“Under this deal, or as many have described this ‘blackmail’, the states have been forced to sign up because the Federal Government holds the purse strings for all the proposed water projects the states have to deliver. They have been told to sign up or they will not receive the money.
“I congratulate the Victorian Government for holding firm, though it is inevitable that Plibersek will keep hounding Victoria to come on board.”
Mrs Beer added it was also outrageous that the Albanese Government was prepared to spend many billions of dollars on taxpayer funded water buybacks in the current economic climate.
“For starters they are not necessary, which has been pointed out in numerous reports by various groups. There are other sensible options. Estimates to purchase 450 gigalitres of water to achieve Ms Plibersek’s political objectives have ranged from $11 billion to $20 billion. How can this occur without a thorough cost/benefit analysis, with all alternatives being considered?
“Tuesday’s announcement was indeed a sad day in Australian politics and a sadder day for farming and rural communities, especially those in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales. If we proceed along this path, in years to come it will inevitably be considered among our nation’s greatest policy failures,” Mrs Beer said.