The proposed Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) fails to adequately recognise the importance of irrigation communities and their surrounding environments.
The architects of the plan in the Murray Darling Basin Authority are not listening and learning, and the goal of environmental improvements through adaptive management will not be achieved by such a culture.
What is needed now is a mature negotiation about how best to achieve high productivity water use for the environment and industry. If governing bodies can focus on delivering genuine value, inland communities can continue to make a significant contribution to Australia in the future.
Irrigation communities in NSW are major contributors to the state and the nation. These communities are producers of food and fibre and home to highly successful processing and exporting businesses such as Sunrice and leading wine producers. We are also the generational custodians of the inland environment.
Unlike the Murray Darling Basin Commission it replaced, the Murray Darling Basin Authority is focused on river environments and ‘end of system flows’ and not the Murray Darling Basin as a whole. Consequently, the Authority has proposed extraordinary reductions to water allocations, and presented an incomplete and distorted picture of the impacts of such reductions.
If implemented, the MDBP in its current form will require significant adjustment and compensation. Compensation for this adjustment should flow directly to the affected communities and not be wasted on inefficient and costly political/legislative/bureaucratic exercises.
Infrastructure investment has an important role and will be welcomed if it delivers productivity gains, including measurable benefits to inland environments which extend beyond rivers. Productivity gains may come in the form of genuine water use efficiencies, storage options, timely water delivery and improved water quality.
To protect taxpayer and community interests, infrastructure projects need to have comprehensive, independent monitoring to confirm the projects are delivering cost effective productivity improvements. Such monitoring is also necessary to enable fast learning and adaptation.
The increased cost structures associated with infrastructure investment cannot be sustained without productivity improvements. Increased costs undermine property values and impose an additional burden on irrigation communities.
If politicians persist in directing funding to their own government institutions instead of providing genuine value to taxpayers and inland communities, they should and will be held accountable.
Debbie Buller is President of the Murrumbidgee Valley Food and Fibre Association.
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