Minister for Water David Littleproud emphasised his determination to lead the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through its full implementation, at a meeting in Shepparton attended by the Speak Up campaign last week.
Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar was invited to join the discussions with Mr Littleproud. Although it was predominantly a Goulburn Murray Irrigation District meeting, Mrs Scoullar was given the opportunity to participate because of Speak Up’s prominent and expanding advocacy role across the Southern Basin.
“The Minister is determined to deliver the plan ‘in full and on time’, and this includes the 450 gigalitres of ‘up water’. He told us he wants to see good science and structure around the 450 to give communities confidence the safeguards are in place.
“He also expressed a desire to give us certainty and get governments out of our lives, emphasising if the Basin Plan falls over ‘they will keep coming after us’.
“Mr Littleproud stated we are at a critical junction of the plan and it is his role to be a leader, which means leading the states and MinCo through its delivery and ensuring this is done in a meticulous manner,” Mrs Scoullar said.
She said there was a robust question and answer session with Mr Littleproud.
“I first asked him about constraints, which is a critical issue in our region. I was surprised at the lack of understanding around the physical limitations which exist when we try to send existing proposed volumes of water down the Murray River, let alone additional flows under the 450 gigalitres scenario.
“I also asked when are alternative solutions at the end of the system going to be addressed. He agreed it is an issue that needs to be considered.
“Importantly, it was highlighted to Mr Littleproud that our regions want to grow, but where is the opportunity for growth when water keeps being taken away? And how can neutrality testing assess the lost opportunities in our communities from removal of water?”
Mrs Scoullar said there was real concern among attending stakeholders that the recent Ernst & Young report on the Basin Plan did not adequately address the flow-on impacts to communities of removing water.
She said Mr Littleproud also spoke about legal issues linking Sustainable Diversion Limit projects and the 450GL up water, and these are being further investigated because attendees had significant concerns around some of his comments. He has committed to providing more information on the legal advice.
Water buybacks versus on-farm efficiencies was also discussed.
“There was an excellent analogy used: It’s like making a decision about whether you would like to be shot, or starve to death. Both result in water leaving the region and in the end have the same effect.
“This view was supported by Rob Rendell, from RMCG, whose company has undertaken independent socio-economic reports in the Goulburn and Murray Valleys. He explained that when farmers outside the Goulburn Murray or Murray Irrigation footprints undertake on-farm efficiency programs they tend to replace their water by purchasing entitlements from MIL or GMID, and this has severely impacted the water resource or consumptive pool in the food bowl.”
Mrs Scoullar said alarm bells across both regions in relation to the 450GL ‘up water’ were explained to Mr Littleproud.
“Even if people in our regions do not participate in the programs, there will be a knock-on effect that will limit our resource and push water prices up even higher.
“Regardless, it seems the Minister is determined to push ahead with the 450, despite the legislative promise that it would not proceed if there were adverse socio-economic impacts. It is extremely disappointing that this promise looks like being broken … but we will not stop fighting,” Mrs Scoullar said.
For further information or interviews: Shelley Scoullar phone 0414 960 785 or email firstname.lastname@example.org