We need our elected representatives to get back to the middle ground and work together on bipartisan, sensible solutions before the $13 billion Basin Plan careers any further off the rails.
And that starts with honesty about what delivering the Basin Plan “in full” really means.
Delivering the plan “in full” does not mean guaranteeing another 450 gigalitres on top of the 2750GL target, regardless of the last-minute political deal with South Australia in late 2012.
The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism in the plan, in fact, allows for a range of final recovery volumes above and below the benchmark 2750GL target.
Both the nominal 650GL in environmental offsets (downwater) and the 450GL (upwater) are conditional on no additional adverse impacts.
As little as 61GL of the 450GL could be recovered, and the Basin Plan would be still delivered “in full” and its environmental benchmarks achieved.
How much more water is recovered depends on what’s possible without causing additional hardship for farmers and small towns.
Similarly, the 650GL in environmental offsets described in the plan are not guaranteed.
We already know that. The Basin states in June this year came up with projects to deliver only a potential 605GL, including several uncertain projects that depend on landholder support to go ahead.
Nor does the 450GL have to be recovered from farmers through on-farm upgrades. Under the plan, it could also come from off-farm projects or any “alternative arrangement” proposed and agreed by the states.
Why don’t we hear our politicians talking about these? Why are the Canberra bureaucrats advising our politicians so hell-bent only on throwing more money at farmers to squeeze more water and wealth out of local economies?
The dairy industry backs the Basin Plan, because we want healthier rivers.
We don’t claim our hardships are due to the plan alone. Droughts, floods and poor milk prices all take their toll. But they are the normal ebb and flow of farming fortunes. We are used to rolling with them and surviving.
The only thing that’s changed is the Government’s decision to buy up water from farmers through direct purchases and indirectly through on-farm works over the past decade. This represents a substantial market intervention by Government already.
The dairy industry is one of many sectors worried that if another 450 gigalitres is recovered from irrigators, the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District in northern Victoria, among others, will be rendered unviable because of the effects of further shrinking supply on the water market.
We think the $1.5 billion still in the kitty would be better spent on the other options and projects that deliver a better bang for the environmental buck than just adding more water.
We urge the ministers to work together to find a better solution.
Daryl Hoey is the Australian Dairy Industry Council Basin Water Taskforce chairman.