Paroo shire mayor, Lindsay Godfrey, has come out swinging in the wake of news that the federal government has negotiated the “strategic purchase” of an unknown quantity of water from the Dunsdon family at Cunnamulla.
The buyback will mean that if the Northern Basin Review scenario of a recovery target of 320GL is approved by the federal parliament, no further water will need to be recovered across the Queensland Border Rivers or the Warrego-Paroo-Nebine catchments.
The lower Balonne catchment, described last year as “in dire straits”, isn’t relieved by this move, being a localised allocation on environmental grounds.
In making the announcement, Maranoa MP David Littleproud said the strategic Warrego River purchase was assessed as having minimal socio-economic impact.
“A property at Cunnamulla was on the market and now it’s not,” Mr Littleproud said. “The department (of Agriculture) assured me there was no loss of employment, and that the seller wouldn’t reduce staffing as a result of the sale.”
Don Dunsdon, whose family has 2020ha of irrigated development and a 12,000ML flood irrigation licence, said the sale of some of their surplus water back to the government had no detrimental effect to the community or their farms.
“In fact some of the sales under the healthy headwaters scheme has made one of the farms far more efficient and productive,” he said. “Not only that, there is still plenty of un-utilised water on the river that can be used for future development if needed.”
However, Cr Godfrey said the loss of any resource from the community of Cunnamulla was very serious.
He said he would be seeking significant compensation from state and federal governments.
“It’s not about this water not being utilised; this water has now gone forever from our shire,” he said. “It’s not for an irrigator to say everything’s fine. Behind them is a community.”
Cr Godfrey said it looked like the federal government was taking water from an under-allocated river to fix over-allocation problems in another river.
“When water allocations were made for the Warrego, it was a very transparent process to ensure the river had capacity.
“There is no reason or rationale to buy this water back now.”
He said he had received minimal information from government sources on the buyback.
Water ministers from Queensland, NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia all supported the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s proposed 70GL reduction recommendations when they met recently.
Mr Littleproud said the Border Rivers community will finally have certainty if the Basin Plan amendments pass.
“I’ve already had the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce in Goondiwindi so I’m doing all I can to ensure my Murray-Darling Basin communities get the best deal possible,” he said.
When Mr Joyce visited Goondiwindi in April, he assured local irrigators the Coalition understood how vital water was to towns such as their own, along with St George, Dirranbandi and Dalby, and the socio-economic effect any reduction had on those communities.
“These people have backed me in the past and I’m going to make sure we back them and do what we can to help them,” Mr Joyce said.
In February the Queensland Farmers Federation and Local Government Association of Queensland said southern Queensland communities would be crippled by water buybacks unless a suite of complementary measures was implemented that would deliver better environmental outcomes while avoiding unacceptable job losses.
Mr Littleproud understood the Northern Basin Review’s recommendation that 320GL rather than 390GL be recovered was due to be debated in Canberra after the winter recess.
“The South Australian government’s support for the proposal should send a strong signal to the federal arena,” he said. “An independent body undertook the review work and it should be respected by all parties.”
He believed the federal Agriculture Department had been negotiating with the Dunsdon family for a number of months.