NSW irrigators support class action against MDBA

By Sophie Baldwin

A class action against the Murray-Darling Basin Authority by Southern Riverina Irrigators has received support from hundreds of NSW irrigators, after meetings were held across the region this month.

The action is calling for $750million in compensation for loss of income caused by what SRI says is MDBA’s poor water management.

SRI chair Chris Brooks said NSW irrigators had tried to highlight the cost but the MDBA and politicians continually refused to listen.

‘‘We have been left with one resort which is going through the judicial system, where we can put all the facts in front of an independent umpire who can determine whether or not we have a claim,’’ Mr Brooks said.

Deniboota Landholder Association chair Alastair Starritt said the meeting in Caldwell was very well attended.

‘‘The key element to come out of our meeting was the unanimous support for the action,’’ Mr Starritt said.

‘‘We had over 150 landholdings represented out of a footprint of 220. In addition, we had four non-Murray irrigators (private diverters) support us as well, which just shows the severity of the problem and the frustration farmers have.’’

The outcome was a unanimous vote to support SRI and Mr Brooks received a standing ovation for his initiative in getting the class action up and running.

‘‘The meeting was a powerful indication of the feeling of farmers right across the NSW irrigation footprint,’’ Mr Starritt said.

He said he personally supported the action because he was concerned agriculture had been broadly let down by farming advocacy groups.

‘‘As irrigators we have been getting nowhere in the water debacle despite all our meetings and negotiations regarding problems and solutions across varying government bodies.

‘‘We have explored so many avenues but, in the end, the legal system is the only independent option left to us.’’

Mr Starritt questioned why Murray Irrigation Ltd did not support the class action.

‘‘I would have thought they would have an allegiance to their shareholders,’’ he said.

‘‘We all know they need to run a profitable company, but they are not acting in our best interests and if there is no water, there is no farmers, no shareholders and definitely no scheme.’’

Murray Irrigation chief operating officer Scott Barlow said MIL was ineligible to be a party to the class action.

‘‘We recognise that local shareholders are experiencing difficult conditions, with the ongoing zero allocation for general security licences having a severe impact on businesses and individuals,’’ he said.

‘‘We also respect the rights of local shareholders to act in a manner that best reflects their individual needs and circumstances.’’

Mr Barlow said MIL would continue to focus on ‘‘safely and efficiently delivering water supplies to our shareholders and increasing certainty through better management of our bulk licence’’.

‘‘We’ll also continue to work closely with government, members of parliament and peak bodies to advocate for improved water availability and security for our communities,’’ he said.