ANGRY farmers and rural leaders have targeted senior federal politicians, including Opposition leader Bill Shorten, urging them to reject a political manoeuvre that would exacerbate economic and social pain for northern agricultural districts, by increasing water cuts in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
With federal parliament set to resume today for 2018, the farming and community representatives have launched a new campaign demanding Labor and crossbench Senators join with the Coalition government to vote-down a disallowance motion tabled by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young on November 16 last year.
Senator Hanson-Young provided notice to move her disallowance motion in 15 sitting days (deadline due February 14), to try to gazump amendments to the Basin Plan that aim to reduce the Northern Basin’s water recovery target from 390GLs to 320GLs.
That 70GLs reduction aims to ease, but not halt, the flow of job losses and economic suffering in the Northern Basin caused by prescribed environmental water flow targets in the Basin Plan.
A move to reduce the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) target to 320GLs resulted from extensive consultation with stakeholders during the Northern Basin Review in the past four years, along with expert, independent scientific evaluation, including hydraulic and economic modelling, by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
The reduced target was described as a balanced outcome of the independent review by MDBA boss Phil Glyde and is set to be formally ratified via amendments to the Basin Plan tabled by the Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston on November 14 last year.
But Senator Hanson-Young’s move to try to torpedo the reforms has been widely slammed by community and farming groups, with support from new Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud who sees the disallowance motion as a political litmus test for Queensland Senators.
Speaking on behalf of the concerned Queensland farming and community leaders, Balonne Shire Council Deputy Mayor Fiona Gaske said, if successful, the Green’s disallowance motion would “make a mockery” of the MDBA’s extremely detailed review.
She said it would also threaten the viability of communities and the livelihoods of hard-working farmers across the Northern Basin.
“The Disallowance Motion would result in the Northern Basin recovery water recovery target increasing by 70GLs which would prompt further additional losses in rural economies - communities that are already struggling with the loss of 320GLs of water which is being recovered across the Northern Basin as part of the overall Murray-Darling Basin Plan,” she said.
“The MDBA’s own modelling demonstrates employment losses in communities across the Northern Basin will increase by 180, taking the total to 710 full-time jobs lost due to water recovery and buybacks and causing further economic harm to small communities, which would be an extraordinarily cruel blow.”
- Signatory organisations:
- • Agforce Queensland Farmers
- • Balonne Shire Council
- • Border Rivers Food and Fibre
- • Cotton Australia
- • Dirranbandi Progress Association
- • Goondiwindi Regional Council
- • Growcom
- • Queensland Farmers Federation
- • Smart Rivers
- • St George Chamber of Commerce
- • South-West Local Government Association
The Murray Darling Association (MDA) also issued a strongly worded statement late last week calling for political support to block the Green’s disallowance motion, to prevent further economic and social devastation in at-risk farming communities.
“This was a decision based in science and one that has the support of all MDA regions from Balonne to Adelaide,” a statement said of the 70GLs reduction in the Northern Basin review.
MDA President David Thurley said if the disallowance motion succeeded and the recovery target was increased to 390 gigalitres, “it would mean further uncertainty for all Northern Basin communities”.
“Dirranbandi would be finished and St George would be decimated,” he said.
Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also in firing line
St George and Dirranbandi are located in Mr Littleproud’s Queensland electorate of Maranoa.
Mr Littleproud called on the Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to instruct Queensland Labor Senators to “do what they’re elected to do- stand up for Queensland”.
“If Labor Senators do not intend to stand up for Queensland, they need to explain why,” he told Fairfax Agricultural Media.
“It’s vital for rural communities that Green’s efforts to disallow the SDLs (reduction) are defeated.”
Mr Littleproud said the SDL adjustment mechanism, in the Basin Plan, was “critically important” for rural communities, farmers and the environment.
“All players must understand the 605GL of “downwater” and the 450GL of “upwater” are tied together,” he said.
“Years of further water wars would rip certainty from rural communities, rural business including farms and the environment.”
The farming and rural community representatives have urged stakeholders to contact federal MPs directly to vent their concerns, like Mr Shorten and Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke, and to urge them to reject the disallowance motion.
Mr Burke oversaw the Basin Plan being signed into law in 2012 when the Coalition voted with Labor to sideline the Green’s demands - led by Senator Hanson-Young - for a 4000GLs baseline SDLs target, instead of the 2750GLs and additional 450GLs for South Australia that was ultimately agreed to.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has also been targeted along with Queensland Labor Senators who are set to wear the wrath of farming and regional communities, if the Green’s political manoeuvre - timed to cause disruption for the government ahead of the South Australian state election in March - is successful.
Mr Burke was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.
South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong - a former Water Minister in the Rudd government when the Basin Plan was in the legislative pipeline and now the Opposition’s Senate leader - is also in the firing line of farmer and rural community angst, over the disallowance motion.
One Nation Senators have also been urged to vote it down along with the three Nick Xenophon Team Senators in South Australia and NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm who has been outspoken on Basin Plan issues, since being elected to federal parliament in 2013.
Senator Leyonhjelm raised a disallowance motion last year to try to axe the sugar marketing code of conduct, which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Senator Ruston’s amendment proposal says the 70GLs reduction reflected outcomes of the Northern Basin review, where the MDBA concluded that the 320GLs recovery target “minimises socio-economic impacts in northern Basin communities and delivers almost equivalent environmental outcomes”.
“The Amendment Instrument supports the right to an adequate standard of living by reducing the water recovery target in the northern Basin from 390 GL to 320 GL, in order to minimise any adverse socio-economic effects on communities,” it says.
“At the same time, the Amendment Instrument delivers almost equivalent environmental outcomes in line with the Committee’s emphasis on ensuring that there is sufficient and safe water available for future generations.”
Senator Hanson-Young said she’d written to the Senate crossbench and Labor asking them to support her disallowance of the government’s regulation “to take even more environmental water from the Basin in an act of legalised theft”.
“River communities are sick of being ripped off, taxpayers are sick of being ripped off, and community leaders continue to call for a judicial enquiry,” she said at the time.
“How many scandals have to come to light before the Prime Minister wakes up and realises there is nowhere to hide anymore?”
Cotton Australia said, at the time the 70GLs cut was announced last year, that a revised target of 320GLs would still mean, based on MDBA modelling as part of the Northern Basin review, the loss of 530 jobs in irrigation districts.
Mr Glyde said the Basin Plan was already the “straw that’s breaking the camel’s back” for irrigation reliant northern farming districts like Dirranbandi and St George which the MDBA modelling said would still see 132 job losses, in those two regions, with a 320GLs target.
“While we’ve reduced the size of that impact, it’s still a significant impact,” he said in May last year.
“We went out and did a lot of economic, environmental, social and hydrological new work to try and bring it up to the level of the south.
“On the basis of that, we believe we can get a better triple bottom line decision than what’s currently in the Plan…using 70GLs less water.”
Mr Littleproud issued a media statement when the disallowance motion was tabled saying Queensland Labor Senators “wait for instruction” while the Greens “meddle” with the Northern Basin’s target reduction.
“Instead of doing their job and fighting for Queensland, Labor Senators Watt, Ketter, Chisholm and Moore have made a gutless move and stated they will ‘wait and see what Tony Burke tells us what to do’,” he said.
“Qld Labor Senators Watt, Ketter, Chisholm and Moore are just blind mice, merely following party orders – they’re Queensland in name only.
“The Greens are hell-bent on destroying agriculture in Queensland and challenging the very existence of towns like St George and Dirranbandi by putting forward a disallowance motion in the Senate.
“This (70GLs) reduction is an acknowledgment of the profound recovery target impact on St George and Dirranbandi but here’s the Greens throwing the whole thing into uncertainty.
“I’m now calling for Labor to prove they aren’t run by the Greens and to back Queensland and support these amendments as this recommendation goes towards protecting family farms and small businesses which support smaller irrigators in the Lower Balonne from further buyback affects.”
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.