Basin plan ‘bleeding away’ rural jobs

By Country News

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed says the collection of community profiles released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority shows a drastic loss of employment in the southern basin’s irrigation-dependent communities.

Ms Sheed said the irrigation workforce in Shepparton slumped 24.3 per cent between 2001 and 2011, and a further 17.3 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

‘‘After the millennium drought ended, you would have expected to see some recovery in job numbers as production returned to some sort of normal level,’’ she said.

‘‘Instead, jobs have continued to bleed away from the sector since the Murray-Darling Basin Plan came into effect.

‘‘Certainly broader challenges affecting industries, such as dairy, have played a role, but the link between reduced water availability as a result of the plan and reduced employment in irrigated farming cannot be overlooked.’’

Ms Sheed said she welcomed recent comments by Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde acknowledging that basin communities understood the full impact of water recovery in their towns better than anyone.

‘‘This data is only based on high-level population and employment information from recent censuses and ABS records and so it cannot capture the lived reality in our communities,’’ she said.

‘‘It does not reflect the increasingly precarious position of our farmers, the level of debt some are in and their shrinking capacity to protect themselves against the challenges of further water reduction.

‘‘Most critically, it does not reflect the despair of some farmers still in the game who are now feeling they’re being forced out of an industry they love — an industry central to Australians being able to enjoy continued access to high quality fresh food — because their access to water has been so severely hindered.’’