The social and economic assessment of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan recently released by Murray-Darling Basin Authority cannot go unanswered.
The authority’s ‘‘nothing to see here’’ evaluation contradicts the findings of its own assessment of the impacts that have been imposed on the Berrigan and Finley communities.
This blaming of everything else for the economic and social decline of the communities is compounded by the lack of assistance for the communities to adapt to a future with less water by the Federal Government, despite the promise to do so.
It is noted that the Federal Government did provide councils in the basin with funding to identify adaptation strategies for a future with less water, but also that it withdrew the funding for implementation of those strategies before they were even identified.
I note that a neighbouring local government area has been given significant Commonwealth support despite suffering a decline far less than that experienced by the Finley and Berrigan communities.
These communities have seen a decline in total workforce of almost 40 per cent since 2001, more than half of which occurred during the period of implementation of the basin plan. This contrasts with an average downturn in total workforce of 24 per cent across the basin.
While earlier job losses may be attributed to the extended drought, the latter losses align with the plan’s implementation.
Importantly, the plan was implemented when community resilience and capacity to adapt were at their lowest, immediately after the drought.
This is demonstrated by the fact other communities, less effected by implementation of the plan, started to show signs of recovery while the Finley and Berrigan communities continued to decline.
Also reinforcing the impacts of the plan’s implementation is the fact that the communities historically demonstrated higher than average workforce participation rates but these rates are now lower than average.
Interestingly, at a time of vulnerability, other levels of government have chosen to reduce their own workforce in the area.
Cruelly, implementation of the plan has taken above-average communities and turned them into below-average communities and reduced their capacity to adapt to a different future.
‘‘Nothing to see here’’ — just Finley a prosperous rural community in 2001 experiencing a sharp and sustained decline in its social and economic prosperity and adaptive capacity relative to other basin communities.
It is difficult to understand why the authority is trying to say ‘‘everything’s fine here — look over there’’ and the plan has had no impact on these communities when its own evaluation demonstrates this is not the case.
It is also very disappointing that the Federal Government, as the owner of the plan, has inflicted this damage on the communities without any support and in fact shamefully removed the support that it had promised.