Darling River tour opens Sheed’s eyes to northern basin impacts

By Country News

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said her recent four-day tour of the Darling River ‘‘opened her eyes’’ to the reality of the impact the northern basin has had on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its river systems.

Last week Ms Sheed travelled the western spine of NSW alongside fellow independent State Member for Mildura Ali Cupper on a fact-finding mission.

She said the tour would help her advocate for farmers in her electorate.

‘‘What I wanted to do is get a much better understanding of how what’s happening up there impacts us down here in Shepparton,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘The very strong message that we got from everyone we met along the Darling River between Mildura and Tilpa was: ‘Yes, we’re in a terrible drought and that’s having a big impact on availability of water but a lot of this was happening before the drought. The reason it was happening was because of so many years of floodplain harvesting in Queensland and in northern NSW, predominantly for cotton growing’.

‘‘The trip allows me to put the spotlight on the northern basin so when the drought breaks it doesn’t just go back to massive amounts of water being harvested and not running down the river, with the NSW northern basin not making the contribution it should.’’

Ms Sheed said because of floodplain harvesting in the northern basin along the Darling River, the Murray River had copped the brunt of supplying water to South Australia.

She said many vast plains in northern NSW and southern Queensland were replicas of Cubbie Station, the largest irrigation property in Australia.

‘‘All those plains are collecting water when it flows and grows cotton.

‘‘Water that used to gather from heavy rain going into streams and wetlands ultimately making its way into the Darling River, no longer does that because there are banks everywhere.

‘‘It’s a totally unregulated environment. Here in Victoria our farmers are metered to the last litre while up there is minimal metering.

‘‘There has been a promise to introduce metering by 2023, in the meantime the northern basin is supplying no water to the Murray-Darling Basin so all the water that should be coming down is being supplied by us,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘There have been different figures told to me that the Darling supplies 17 per cent (to South Australia) and Maryanne Slattery (senior water researcher) said it was once 39 per cent.

‘‘There’s been a massive reduction in the water coming down the Darling but there’s nothing coming; and it hasn’t for a while.

‘‘Even if it rains the worry is there won’t be much coming so all of that water has to come out of the southern basin and it’s not fair.

‘‘The Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be paused while the investigation into what seems to be really discredited science around the Lower Lakes always being freshwater is investigated.

‘‘Until the metering and regulation of southern Queensland and NSW is put in place there should be no more recovery of water from the southern basin.’’

—James Bennett