Commission hears uncertainty claims on plan

By Alana Christensen

Allegations of water theft, the threat of further water recovery in the region and upcoming amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan continue to fuel uncertainty and concern, a South Australian inquiry has heard.

Visiting Shepparton on Thursday, the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan heard from a handful of speakers including local irrigators, water leaders and environmentalists who expressed concerns regarding the future of the multi-billion-dollar plan.

Commissioner Bret Walker acknowledged the allegations of water theft ‘‘don’t make doing the right thing seem any easier’’, with senior counsel assisting Richard Beasley conceding regions just wanted a ‘‘level playing field’’.

With 36 proposed projects to go before parliament this week as part of the Sustainable Diversion Limits Adjustment Mechanisms, Goulburn Valley Environment Group president John Pettigrew told the commission the lack of transparency regarding the projects was ‘‘disappointing’’.

Mr Pettigrew labelled some of the past projects, which are no longer being proposed as part of the mechanism, an ‘‘insult’’, stating it was clear they would not achieve the outcomes required.

Concerns regarding the possibility of an extra 450Gl in ‘upwater’ to be recovered for the benefit of the environment continued to be a point of contention among attendees.

Mr Pettigrew told the commission that despite opposition from irrigators, he believed the water could be recovered, pointing to research by Ernst & Young that pointed to a ‘‘direction forward’’.

Yet State Member for Shepparton and Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair Suzanna Sheed continued to maintain that further water recovery from the region should not and could not be allowed to happen, slamming the ‘‘demoralising’’ uncertainty.

‘‘We cannot sustain the 450Gl coming out of that pool we use for food production,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘The 450Gl is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’’

Naring farmer Barry Croke warned the commission that the region was setting itself up for a ‘‘very risky’’ situation, with the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District potentially on the verge of collapse.

‘‘We’re getting to the stage where the tipping point is coming. And I think the catalyst will be the next low allocation year in this region,’’ Mr Croke said.

He said if farmers were forced to sell off water allocations in the future, then the $2billion invested into the Connections project to increase on-farm efficiencies would be ‘‘total nonsense’’.