Protection of rural communities is a non-negotiable component of additional criteria for recovering more water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, according to regional leaders.
Leaders representing agriculture, industry, local government, community and indigenous groups in the NSW Murray are seeking a water-tight guarantee that job losses and economic decline linked to basin plan water recovery come to an end.
It follows discussions leading to next month’s Ministerial Council meeting between state and federal water ministers at which criteria for a socio-economic neutrality test around the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’ is on the agenda.
The 450Gl of ‘up-water’ can only be delivered if it delivers neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.
However, there has been a growing feeling among irrigators in the region that the conversation around the 450Gl has shifted from whether it can be achieved to how it will be achieved.
The Murray Regional Strategy Group released a report outlining its suggestions for a socio-economic test to assess the viability of recovering the 450Gl.
‘‘No structural package can compensate for the value of lost production and value-added economic activity if more water is lost from the region,’’ the report stated.
Edward River Council Mayor Norm Brennan said members of the group were concerned that the Federal Government had only recently begun consultation on the additional criteria.
‘‘The government has not even finalised the 2750Gl, which we all know has had a massive negative impact on our communities, and yet seems determined to recover more,’’ Cr Brennan said.
‘‘Recovering an additional 450Gl is not acceptable to our communities, but if it is to be recovered, we must have an iron-clad socio-economic neutrality test for our protection.’’
According to 2018 Murray-Darling Basin Authority community profiles, the Berrigan-Finley community had seen a 22.9 per cent total workforce reduction between 2011 and 2016, with a 35.4 per cent reduction in the irrigation workforce between 2001 and 2016 — about half of this between 2011 and 2016.
The group also endorsed criteria developed by the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group and the Victorian and NSW governments.
‘‘This should send a very strong message to the Commonwealth that communities in the southern basin have suffered enough,’’ Cr Brennan said.