Independent Senator John Madigan and Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman John Bradford.MURRAY-Darling Basin communities copping the brunt of the new river regime want further water recovery halted, arguing local knowledge is being ignored to the despair of agricultural and regional economies.
Last week a Senate inquiry into the impactof the Basin Plan was announced.
Independent Senator John Madigan has driven more than 6000 kilometres across the Murray-Darling Basin to consult with communities about the impacts of the Basin Plan.
Senator Madigan said he launched the inquiry because of the level of community concern.
“This is an opportunity to rectify a great bloody stuff-up,” Senator Madigan said.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman JohnBradford said he took a leadership role because “irrigators are faced with a political drought.”
“I want to help make a difference. I stepped up so I can help to keep young farmers on the land,” he said.
Mixed farmer Daryl MacDonald, hosted a tour group on his property last week including media, local farmers, Senator Madigan, along with fellow Senators, Labor’s Sam Dastyari and independent David Lyonhjelm.
Mr MacDonald said the amount taken from ‘the bucket’ available to irrigators had significantly increased the risk of accessing water and realising a return on investment.
“It’s a massive risk from year to year now,” he said.
Basin communities’ organised a meeting at Barham last week to herald the new inquiry. It drew more than 1000 people opposed to the plan to the Services Club.
Daryl MacDonald told the meeting communities had lost faith in the Basin Plan because of the lack of local input which had filtered through the Murray Darling Basin Authority to government and into legislation.
“I’ve been doing consultation meetings for God knows (how long) and it has all been for bloody nothing. Excuse me for being cynical, but that is my experience,” he said.
Judy Truan, a family therapist servicing the Riverina, said families were suffering and implored the Senators to give “high priority” to socio-economic impacts.
“Many families throughout the Basin are experiencing extreme hardship in stress-related illness and mental health over their financial viability,” she said.
Fairfax Mediaasked the MDBA if it had updated its predictions since the 2012 Regulatory Impact Statement, which found the Basin Plan impacts would be modest.
“Ongoing monitoring is being done to measure the effects of the Basin Plan. The MDBA reports annually and is required to submit more detailed five-yearly reports,” a spokeswoman for the authority said.
School principal Judy McGuinness, representing the NSW Primary Principals Association, said there was ‘significant social inequity’ in schools in the region.
“Across the Murray-Darling Basin our school enrolments are declining. Our students have limited futures and have to move away to work and we have rising mental health issues. I am talking about young children, 6 year olds who are anxious about what is happening in their home.”
While irrigators expressed anger at the lack of forethought for the socio-economic impact of water recovery, they looked ahead with fear to the looming legacy the increased flows to benefit the environment would leave.
A community group set up to advise the MDBA on potential third party impacts from increased flows, the Edward-Wakool Constraints Advisory Group, has issued a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the authority’s consultation.
It said it took two years for the MDBA to respond to its feedback to proposed flow rates for environmental water.
Flows of 44,000 megalitres to 77,000ML per day were pencilled in – but after persistent warnings the proposed flow rate was finally downgraded to 65,000ML.
Group spokeswoman Louise Burge said a flow of that rate would have significant impacts on local farmers, infrastructure such as bridges and roads, as well as local tourism.
A flow of just 20,000ML in 2010 – which Mrs Burge said was released without prior warning – was enough to make her property’s river crossing unpassable during harvest.
The MDBA spokeswoman said the authority worked with state governments to determine the proposed flow regimes.
“The NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments decided which flows to investigate in the river reaches,” she said.
“The MDBA is currently researching the effects of these flows on land alongside the river on behalf of the governments, including effects on third parties.”
Mrs Burge said the MDBA “can’t pretend it’s (the flow regime) the state governments’ fault”.
“The governments were provided misleading advice which incorrectly stated to Ministers that flows of 44,000ML to 77,000ML were feasible.”
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