Basin policy reversal sought

By Country News

The Victorian National Party is ramping up pressure on Labor to step away from removing a cap which prevents the government from buying more water from irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The National Party has asked the Victorian Government to sign a joint letter to federal Labor leader Bill Shorten asking for a reversal of the policy.

Labor’s federal water spokesman Tony Burke said last month the removal of the cap would provide more water for rivers, but irrigators are worried the policy will just rip more water out of agriculture.

The letter, drafted by the National Party and sent to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews last week, says Victoria’s irrigation communities are being decimated by high water prices and they are shocked by the decision of the Labor caucus to adopt this policy.

‘‘We urge you to consider the significant water recovery progress already made in Victoria, the health of the Murray system and the impact that water recovery to date has had on Victorian irrigation communities,’’ the letter said.

‘‘Victoria has made significant water recovery progress under the plan and we are moving ahead with our responsibilities delivering Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) offset projects.’’

As of Monday morning, the National Party was still waiting on a response from the Victorian Government.

While the Victorian Government has been supporting irrigator concerns on many basin issues, the letter is fundamentally asking one state Labor government to publicly lobby its federal counterpart to change policy.

‘‘Victoria has done the hard work in water recovery and our communities have suffered as a result of less water being available for irrigation,’’ the letter drafted by the National Party says.

‘‘Demand from the horticulture industry in the southern basin will now outstrip supply in dry years.

‘‘The impact of increased horticultural demand is being felt by the dairy industry this year with Murray Dairy predicting that a significant number of farmers will exit the industry, driven by high water prices.

‘‘By all means take strong action to remedy identified problems in the northern basin, but we urge you to abandon your policy of re-entering the water market in the southern basin.’’