Farmers are becoming more concerned about potential negative socio-economic impacts from the $13 billion Murray Darling Basin reform, following Labor's announcement it would scrap the cap that limits water buybacks at 1500 gigalitres.
The National Farmers' Federation has launched a petition which it will present to Labor and Greens representatives, who have committed to rewrite laws that limit the amount of water that can be recovered through voluntary buybacks by the Commonwealth.
NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said farmers are weighed down by the weight of "headline-grabbing, politically-motivated attacks" on farming by ill-informed politicians.
"We are asking farmers and basin communities to help us do this. One way is to sign the petition to let MPs and Senators know why a removal of the 1500GL cap would be a disaster," Mr Mahar said.
"Unfortunately, the shock move by the Senate to consider legislation to remove the 1500 gigalitre cap on water buybacks provided in the Water Act, is just the start."
Mr Mahar's comments follow Labor's reaction to a report it commissioned into the Menindee fish kills by the Australian Academy of Sciences, which included discussions of increasing the volume of water recovery in the Northern Basin.
Namoi Valley Irrigators chief executive Jon Maree Baker, representing NSW cotton country, said irrigation communities are doing it tough.
“The media programs, continual legal reviews and outright misrepresentations of our industry has to stop. People are seriously suffering and all it is doing is driving family farms away from the land.”
Ms Baker warned Labor had indicated it would react to the report’s call to expand the current Basin Plan recovery target with new regulations, which would in turn reduce the economic value of water entitlements which irrigators have invested in.
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“The report is being used a vehicle for Labor to recover more than 2750GL. Be aware there are significant consequences when our communities die.
"If a government is going to change the plan, do it properly, but not through underhanded legislative interpretations such as more flow embargoes and measures that prioritise Commonwealth environment water licences above the rights of privately held water."
Ms Baker was disappointed by the Australian Academy of sciences report, which she said focused on irrigation extraction and skated over other factors that contributed to the fish kill.
“It takes single focus on irrigation, but it’s actually a far more complex issue.
"There are block banks in place downstream of Menindee and the fish were stuck because of human intervention.
"There hasn’t been significant floodplain harvesting in the Namoi since 2011, to suggest that has had a significant impact on the fish kills throws doubt over the credibility of the reviewers.
"The report said there should be a minimum of 400GL held in Menindee Lakes - I’d like to know why the panel didn’t include an expert on flow regimes."
Dirranbandi, Queensland, cotton grower Frank Deshon said if more buybacks were conducted, the scale of roll-out would be critical.
"I'm opposed to large scale whole-of-farm buyouts," Mr Deshon said.
"In previous rounds of buybacks we lost four farms from the area and all their money went, nothing was reinvested and businesses in town lost 30 per cent revenue overnight.
"But I don't have an issue with small scale schemes, where a farmer exchanges water and uses the money to diversify or enhance their operation."
View NFF's petiton here: https://farmers.org.au/campaign/keepthecap/