When I meet people from Melbourne and Sydney and they ask me ‘what is the most important issue in my electorate?’, the natural answer is always ‘water policy’.
This answer is usually met with a vacant look, as few people in our major cities have any idea of the importance of irrigation water to everyday life in the towns of irrigation communities.
Quite simply, water equals wealth — whenever there is an available, affordable source of water, there will be farmers with the ability to use that water to create produce, from dairy products to fruit, vegetables, grains, meat, fibre and nuts.
Over the past six years, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been designed and implemented in an attempt to ensure that while we continue to provide water to our irrigation communities, we need to also ensure that our river systems remain healthy and productive.
The plan was put in place and the figure of 2750Gl was decided on as the amount that should be taken out of productive agriculture and flushed down the river to ensure we meet our environmental outcomes.
It was also decided that if the environmental objectives could be achieved with smarter engineering solutions with less water being used, then the independent authority could reduce the amount of water from 2750Gl to 2100Gl.
This was all agreed in the original plan.
As the negotiations were concluding, South Australia continued to claim it needed more water, and it was ultimately agreed that providing it could be socially and economically positive or neutral for the respective communities that were giving up the water, then an additional 450Gl could be delivered down the river.
And this is now the point of great division.
It has been proven time and time again by independent review after independent review, that whenever you take water away from any community the pain is felt, not just on the farms, but right across the wholesale and retail sectors as well.
The basin plan was drawn up in 2012, and for the past six years, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been in the process of delivering and implementing the plan.
We now have six years of implementation to assess, we now have six years of economic activity to assess.
It is imperative that where there have been clear signs of social and economic detriment due to the loss of water, we must point this out.
We need to be able to quantify the economic damage and loss of spending that goes missing whenever a major industry experiences a downturn in any given town, city or region.
One report put out in 2016, and backed by the Victorian Government, suggested the economic losses in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, of which Shepparton is the major city for services, was at least $500million a year.
This was calculated using the water that has already been taken out of the GMID and what would have been produced had that water still been available for production.
You would think that this alone would be enough to make everybody stop and pause before they look at taking more water out of those communities.
Unfortunately, the water debate is distorted by a series of untruths purported by those with priorities favouring the health of the river system over irrigation communities.
The economic activity and the ensuing wholesale and retail flow-on are dependent on access to affordable and reliable water.
So the next time you hear someone say that we need to take more water away from our farmers to run this water down rivers as environmental flows, you need to remind them of the families who are dependent on this water for their livelihoods.
The bulk of who will have nothing to do with farming.
Water is critical for irrigation communities and you cannot take water away from agriculture without causing serious and significant economic and social damage to the entire communities in the region.
The communities of the Goulburn Valley have already given up so much, it’s time that we accepted the independent reports that say so.
The plan says we cannot take any more water away from agriculture if it will have a negative social and economic impact on the communities.
We have to respect what the plan actually says. Enough is enough.
Federal Member for Murray
Basin plan row has a long history
No-one should be surprised that the states are threatening to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
What happens to the basin’s water resources and who should control them has kept the states at loggerheads for more than 118 years.
The issue delayed federation and when the high court was first set up, one of the first cases it had do deal with was, guess what, how to manage the basin’s water resources.
The problem the Federal Government has now can be traced all the way back to 1900 when, in order to get agreement on the formation of an Australian government, power of water was ceded to the states.
This basically means the Federal Government is at the mercy of the states, and a glance at the failed legislative and judicial attempts to better manage things clearly shows the states have wielded their power to ensure state outcomes, not national ones.
There is little evidence to show that things have or will change.
Our politicians have little appetite for confronting the issues that need to be addressed; issues that are seen as vote losing rather than vote winning.
What would be surprising would be some acceptance of the science (interestingly the same science that provides mobile phones, microwave ovens, cars, computers and the internet) and implementation of some measures that may reverse the worrying trends we are currently faced with.