Murray River Group of Councils Media Release - Local Government keeps up the pressure on Basin Plan impact

Published on 16 November 2018

The Murray River Group of Councils (MRGC) has again delivered strong messages on behalf of our northern Victorian irrigation communities to those charged with implementing the Basin Plan.

The key message, in response to consultation by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources: it is not possible to take more productive water out of our districts without long-term negative impacts.

Representatives of the six Murray River Group councils have attended consultation events across the region on the Department’s proposals around future on-farm efficiency projects.

Speaking up on behalf of our irrigation communities, MRGC has told the Department of the serious risks facing northern Victorian irrigation communities if they proceed with recovery of the proposed additional 450GL from the consumptive pool.

Basin Plan water recovery has already had negative socio-economic impacts on our communities: reduced production, increased farming risk, fewer jobs – impacts that have affected livelihoods, health and wellbeing.

Further water recovery risks pushing irrigation districts past the tipping point where entire industries collapse, stranding billions of dollars’ worth of irrigation assets and risking our region’s ability to produce the food staples relied upon across the country.

MRGC Chair, Cr Cheryl McKinnon said: “What really concerns us is that we are seeing in our communities, irrigators exiting their industries – particularly dairy, and at rates we haven’t seen before.

“Farmers have had enough. 15 years of water reform. It’s not just the Basin Plan but the Basin Plan has the potential to make it much worse. The Department wants to take 450GL more water out of the system, with 400GL of that to from the southern Basin. During the current dry? It doesn’t make sense.

“We know that on-farm programs anywhere in the southern Basin, inevitably take more water from the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and it is the water leaving their districts that is driving people to exit.

“The cumulative impact is huge – on our food manufacturers, our transport sector, it’s all jobs leaving our communities with nothing to replace them.

“What are they going to do? These are generational dairy farms. Are they supposed to go on benefits? The social impact, the mental health impact of this doesn’t bear thinking about” said Cr McKinnon.

MRGC supports the Victorian Government’s criteria for socio-economic assessment which should apply to any future water recovery proposals.

Any such proposals must be assessed strategically and undertaken on a regional basis with investment to mitigate negative impacts focused on long-term economic diversification and enduring economic prosperity for communities.

No water recovery should occur from our region without being aligned with the easing of constraints to ensure that no water is collected that cannot actually be delivered to the Lower Lakes and Murray mouth.

“The Government’s own independent review by the Productivity Commission says don’t recover more water until you know you can get it down the system. It just seems absurd that you would spend money on water that you are not even sure you can use” said Cr McKinnon.

The Murray River Group of Councils comprises six councils in northern Victoria, Mildura and Swan Hill Rural City Councils and Loddon, Gannawarra, Campaspe and Moira Shires.