Although Paroo shire mayor, Lindsay Godfrey, says the issue of water allocations in the Murray-Darling basin has become a highly politicised issue, he is confident he received a good hearing from a Senate enquiry in Adelaide recently.
He appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport enquiry with a mission for $12 million in compensation from the federal government, which he said was needed to make up for recent losses of water from the Paroo River system.
The federal government has made a strategic purchase of 10.1 gigalitres from a Cunnamulla irrigator to meet Northern Basin Review targets, while another 10.1GL has been gifted by the state government, news that angered Cr Godfrey, who wanted to know why it wasn’t sold and the money spent on his communities.
“Why gift it, when the federal government is paying $1600 to $2000 a megalitre,” he asked.
Concerns around the loss of the water and the economic effect it would have upon Cunnamulla and the shire’s other small towns were raised with the Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud when he visited in September.
Cr Godfrey described Mr Littleproud as “unrepentant” in his stance towards the need for the buybacks.
“He’s the member for everyone in the electorate – he should listen to everyone’s points of view, instead of coming with a pre-determined view.
“We talked economic issues – our population decline and backpackers – we certainly put our case to him.”
Barrage of questions
Cr Godfrey said he had faced a barrage of questions at the Senate enquiry, which opened with the ejection of South Australia’s Water Minister, Ian Hunter.
“It was on for young and old,” is how Cr Godfrey described it.
Against that background, he was quizzed at length over the allocations on the river and the forms of compliance needed.
He said he had put forward the blueprint devised by the Lower Warrego Water Group in 1992, begun in response to a government announcement that all available water would go to one irrigator.
“It was chaired by Peter Tannock and produced a report for Ed Casey (then Primary Industries Minister) that wiped the initial plan and called for expressions of interest.
“It’s where the current allocations got decided, all on a sustainable basis around what the river could cope with, and what flow levels had to be before irrigators could pump.
“If that had been put over the whole river system, we’d still have water running.”
The gifted water comes out of this plan, according to Cr Godfrey, who said that Paroo and Murweh shires had 4GL each to auction some 10 years ago, which never happened.
He said the recent purchase and gifting was only moving water around on paper, with no real value for the environment.
“Only a small percentage of the water bought by the federal government gets to the Darling River.
“Buying water here and shifting it to Gundy won’t do anything for the environment.”
From the joint purchase-gifting actions, the Paroo has lost around one-third of its water, Cr Godfrey said, “an awful lot of water for a very small river”.
He said he couldn’t guess how the council’s request for compensation was received.
“We got a good hearing but it’s a very politicised issue now.
“We just want fairness.”