Report highlights water woes

By Alana Christensen

Irrigators and farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin region are change-fatigued, lack confidence and trust in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and want water recovery to stop.

Those were three of the key findings from a report compiled by consultancy group Seftons, reporting community feedback to the proposed recovery of the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’.

Farmers across the region expressed concerns at a number of public consultations about the impact further water recovery would have on the viability of agriculture and entire communities.

‘‘We’re still adapting to things that have happened some years ago,’’ a Shepparton local told the public consultation.

‘‘The capacity or depth to more change now is actually pretty limited, and we’re suggesting that perhaps now is the point where you’d say; the community, our supply chain, and the industry can’t cope with more remov(ed) from the consumptive pool, for whatever reason.’’

The report found many concerns about ‘‘big business’’ buying up water entitlements, stating there was a perception that it would leave none for locals and drive the price of water up.

One Victorian said in their online submission, the current situation was like ‘‘death by a thousand cuts’’.

‘‘It simply left a district like ours with a huge problem — those who wish to continue the valuable contribution that agriculture makes to our nation are being asked to carry the extra cost for those who simply sell their water and move on,’’ the submission read.

‘‘(People) are ending up with no respect for themselves, sadly feeling a victim of governments that don’t care.’’

Many also called for a royal commission into the basin plan, according to the Seftons report.

‘‘There are concerns that through past programs the government has over-recovered water and that this will happen again,’’ the report said.

‘‘Participants want bureaucrats to understand their communities, and some suggested that bureaucrats needed to live and work in the communities.

‘‘To open an expression of interest for projects to recover the 450Gl when participants are experiencing one of the most severe droughts was seen as disingenuous and disrespectful.’’

A farm machinery dealer employee told the Deniliquin meeting that ‘‘disillusionment, uncertainty and a complete lack of faith in government departments and politicians’’ was expressed every day.

‘‘Despite being repeatedly told in the media that (we have a) bright future by various talking heads at the top, the treatment of those at the (coal face) during the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s implementation has been shambolic,’’ he said.

Seftons and the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources held 18 public consultations across the country, visiting towns including Shepparton, Echuca, Deniliquin and Rochester.

The consultations were initially heavily criticised by farmers because they did not receive enough notice of the meetings, forcing Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to send the team back to some regional towns.