Op-Ed: Murray-Darling Basin Plan - 13 September 2023

No one better understands the importance of a healthy Murray Daring Basin than the farmers and communities that live along its banks.

It’s our farmers who put the amazing fresh local produce on the tables of Australians every day.

It’s our farmers who give Australia the international reputation as a world leader in food and fibre production.

So achieving a healthy river system is a goal that should be absolutely undeniable, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum or where you live – country or city. 

Having been a primary producer in the Riverland, I know firsthand that it is our irrigators and farmers who stand to gain the most from the achievement of this goal.

This is why I have always been a strong supporter of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

However, the pathway to delivering the Plan has been seriously threatened by the Albanese Labor Government over the past few weeks.

In announcing that the cap on buybacks will be lifted, the Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, has proven that Labor will always put their own political interests ahead of the best interests of our regional communities.

Because in this policy they have abandoned that incredibly important balance between achieving a healthy river system and supporting the viability of our river communities and our irrigators. 

The very producers that stand between us being able to eat the best food in the world or importing our food from countries who often struggle with meeting the same environmental and nutritional standards as Australia.

As someone who will always look at policy through a rural and regional lens, I cannot support buybacks because it is not possible for Labor to guarantee there will be no socio-economic detriment to our river communities.

Ripping a huge amount of additional water, via buybacks, from our irrigators will absolutely decimate river communities like my hometown of Renmark.

To put it in context, the buyback proposal on the table from the Albanese Labor Government would see 38 gigalitres recovered in South Australia, which is more than the entire Renmark Irrigation Trust annual entitlement.

With the huge increase in input costs and prices suppressed, things are tough out there for many irrigated agriculture industries right now.

In this economic environment, Labor’s definition of a ‘willing seller’ or ‘voluntary sales’ ignores the reality faced by our irrigators.

A ‘willing seller’ is not someone whose bank is breathing down their neck.

A ‘willing seller’ is not someone who has to give up their water just to keep their business going or their family fed.

Labor has a pattern of making strong headline announcements that are light on detail and consultation, and this policy is no different. They either have not properly considered the implications of what they are proposing or they simply don’t care.

This is why the Coalition has fought hard to secure a Senate inquiry into the Government’s ‘Restoring Our Rivers’ Bill.

But Labor’s contempt for our river communities is on full display with them refusing to hold hearings anywhere but Canberra.

We know that buybacks will harm river communities and the Government should have the courage to face these communities before they pass legislation that will have significant and permanent consequences. Or worse still, could foreseeably blow up the Murray Darling Plan altogether, as already seen by Victoria’s refusal to sign up.

So, I encourage everyone to speak up and have their say by visiting: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/MDBAWaterBill2023.


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