Ahead of Basin Water Ministers meeting later this month, the Murray River Group of Councils is highlighting the need for action to rebuild trust by delivering on the many recommendations and commitments made concerning the Basin Plan this year.
With a seemingly endless stream of reports into the Basin Plan over the last 12 months, many of them have similar findings of damaged trust within Basin communities.
Rebuilding trust needs more than making recommendations and commitments. Rebuilding trust means taking action to deliver on them.
Action to ensure the delivery of the 605GL worth of supply projects (SDLAM) by focusing on delivering the environmental outcomes, properly engaging with the communities they impact, being flexible in considering new or alternative projects to guarantee that the full 605GL benefit is received by the environment, even if that means extending timelines or funding arrangements.
Action to address the impacts of new irrigation development and to manage the deliverability risks associated with expanding irrigation downstream of the Barmah Choke. We call on South Australia and NSW to act on their commitments and follow Victoria’s lead in working to regulate agricultural expansion. And we urge all States and the Commonwealth to work together to deliver a consistent mechanism that protects the environment from the effects of high summer flows and also protects existing entitlement holders.
Action to genuinely shift the focus of the Water Efficiency Program to off-farm projects, and away from farmer’s water licenses. We call on all Water Ministers to put an end to the on-farm program which we know increases water prices and instead fund projects that will deliver system savings such as the 15.9GL that will be recovered by GMW’s project in the GMID.
Without concrete action on these issues, the threat of buy-backs will continue to hang over our northern Victorian communities.
Chair of the Murray River Group, Cr Bill Moar explained that it was particularly around the SDLAM measures that communities wanted certainty and action.
“We absolutely welcome Minister Pitt’s commitment to ending buy-backs but it needs action to back it up and that means legislating for no further buy backs.
“We know that SDLAM projects are extremely complex and we also know that to be successful they require real community engagement which can’t be compromised for the sake of a deadline.
“Our communities are looking for these projects to deliver long term environmental outcomes without removing more water from farms,” said Cr Moar.
“The farms and the environment, they’re going to be here long after 2024, and we want them to be healthy and thriving. That means we need to listen to communities and take the time get the projects right.
“One thing this year has clearly shown is the importance of food security to our nation and the region. Irrigated agriculture is crucial to northern Victoria’s ability to continue producing food staples relied upon by millions,” said Cr Moar.
The Murray River Group is urging Ministers to be responsive and flexible in delivering the Basin Plan in a way that doesn’t compromise food security and supports Australia’s ability to be more self-sufficient in times of global uncertainty.
“The Basin Plan can and must still deliver for the environment, for industries and for communities,” said Cr Moar.
“But it can only do that if all Basin Ministers and their Departments together with the MDBA start genuinely putting communities at the centre of the conversation and take action to deliver on their commitments.”
The Murray River Group of Councils comprises Mildura Rural City Council, Swan Hill Rural City Council and Gannawarra, Loddon, Campaspe and Moira Shire Councils in northern Victoria.