Fury spills on water

Jim Boatwright (in yellow), of Morundah, joins regional farmers at the Convoy to Canberra to call a halt to the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Photo: Kim Woods.

Southern NSW farmers and business people pushed to the point of anger and frustration rammed home their Can the Plan message to the nation’s politicians, descending on Canberra in a 3000 strong rally.

Facilitated by Speak Up 4 Water, the Convoy to Canberra brought the nation’s capital to a standstill on Monday as trucks looped Federation Mall carrying their messages and thousands of farmers filled the forecourt of Parliament House demanding their water.

While few politicians agreed to meet with the protesters outside, Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks and vice chairman Darcy Hare brokered a deal with Minister for Water Resources and Drought David Littleproud in a private meeting.

Mr Brooks said the conversation was constructive and positive but “the devil would be in the detail”.

“It wasn’t a waste of time, we have made some major achievements and things are going to change,” he said.

Minister Littleproud will seek agreement from Ministerial Council on December 17 to provide appropriate powers to the Interim Inspector General Murray Darling Basin Water Resources Mick Keelty to investigate the impact of the changing distribution of inflows to the Southern Basin on state shares under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.

The investigation will also consider any consequential impacts on state share resulting from reserves required under the agreement including how these interact with state allocation policies. Inspector-General Keelty is to report back to the Minister by March 31, 2020.

“It will unpick all the problems to unwind it and make reasonable, workable plan for this valuable resource,” Mr Brooks said.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister for Water Melinda Pavey yesterday demanded changes to existing operations, rules and sharing arrangements of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Barilaro said NSW would demand:

  • The Federal Government agree NSW will not contribute to the 450GL of additional water recovery efforts
  •  Transmission losses in the system are taken into account as water returned to the environment
  • The Federal Government agree NSW water resource plans will not be progressed until the drought is broken

Irrigator Darcy Hare branded the National Farmers Federation as “missing and out of touch” with the grass roots protest, prompting a sit-in at NFF House yesterday by southern basin irrigators.

NFF president Fiona Simpson said the organisation remained committed to working with farmers and the industry to identify areas of improvement in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Morundah sheep producer Jim Boatwright has never been to a protest rally in his 75 years but stepped up to join Murrumbidgee valley irrigators on the Convoy to Canberra to have his voice heard.

Mr Boatwright said there was much anger and hurt in the region, with the Murray Darling Basin Plan being the hot topic.

The Yanco Creek is the only water supply for his farm and he is fearful of being cut off during any planned works.

“The Murrumbidgee is the lifeline of this area and if it or its tributaries are interfered with to any great degree, it affects a lot of people,” he said. “There is a lot of upheaval at the moment and everyone wants a bit of certainty.

“The villages will cease to exist if the Yanco and Colombo Creeks are cut off on a seasonal basis.

“There are young families who want to stay in the area and it’s a great shame it has got to this stage where we have to have a rally like this to wake somebody up.”

Carrathool irrigator Ottelio Minato has been unable to plant a full crop of cotton and maize this summer due to the low six per cent general security allocation on the Murrumbidgee.

Mr Minato said bore water had saved him from having a zero income.

“I’m getting sick of having no water and (politicians) don’t seem to be listening – in a drought year the environment can wait.”

Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive officer Phillip Glyde said pausing or ditching the basin Plan wouldn’t turn the taps or pumps on, nor alleviate the pain felt in communities during drought.

“In these times, remaining committed to restoring the health of the basin is important,” Mr Glyde said. “When times are tough, available water is stretched and everyone wants more.

“This reform (the Plan) is the first of its kind in the world – we are learning as we go. The Plan is adaptive and flexible.”

Meanwhile, applications have opened for the first 40 gigalitres of the 100 gigalitres made available to fodder producers.

Member for Farrer Sussan Ley said farmers could apply at the discounted rate of $100 a megalitre with water starting to flow before Christmas.

“Farmers can apply for 50 megalitres of water per access licence with a maximum of two applications,” Ms Ley said.

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