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Transparency needed after ‘farcical’ allocation

Food producers in the NSW Murray region have renewed calls for water ownership transparency after what they say is “farcical” information from the state government.

The government’s water department has again delivered a very low allocation for NSW Murray irrigators, and the reasons it has given are described as “dumbfounding”.

Wakool River Association chairman John Lolicato said while irrigators appreciate the detailed water allocation statement (WAS), the mixed and confused messages sent by NSW Water are misleading and concerning. It shows a lack of understanding around the needs of farmers by NSW Water, which is surprising and must be addressed.

Last week it increased the NSW Murray allocation by a meagre two per cent to a total of 17 per cent, but the department said with their average 21 per cent carryover most farmers effectively had 38 per cent.

“What planet are they on?” Mr Lolicato asked. “Any genuine food and fibre producers, which is the vast majority in the Murray region, are dedicated to growing food and do not have any water to carry over.

“How could they? Last year they were on three per cent allocation, the year before that it was zero and in 2017-18 it was 51 per cent. With the recent price of temporary water there is no way a family farmer can hoard the quantities the department is claiming.

“We’re talking here about family farmers who are our nation’s core staple food producers of milk, rice, wheat, barley, oats, lamb and beef. To protect these essential food supplies it is imperative we get to the bottom of the rubbish that is coming from the NSW Government in its explanations for allocation assessment.

“Why do they have such poor understanding of how farming works and, importantly, who owns the massive amounts of water that are being held somewhere, by someone?” Mr Lolicato asked.

He said this is the precise reason why farmers have been calling for transparency and an effective water register.

“We need to know who holds this water - how much of it is environmental water, how much of it is held by speculators and how much by water managers? Because there is one thing we know for certain; very little is held by your average family farmer.”

Mr Lolicato added these family farmers were also staggered that the department says its “attention will soon need to shift more to meeting high priority needs in 2021-22”.

“Setting water aside for high priority needs for the following year has been the excuse for ridiculously low allocations for the past three seasons. How can we have had one of the biggest floods in decades in 2016, then have it followed by three years of low or zero allocation? There can be no other reason than poor management.

“Planning for summer crops is taking place now and farmers cannot plant with confidence on a 17 per cent allocation. Despite what the department says, these farmers do not have large carryover volumes.

“It is about time we had transparency around who owns this carryover and who owns the water entitlements so the department is forced to stop misleading politicians and the general public around the amount of water that is available for food production.

“The Department needs to work with stakeholders, including farmers, in an attempt to regain their trust in the equitable sharing of this most important resource,” Mr Lolicato said.

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