Water

Reforms ‘first step’

By Country News

An emergency water allocation for the dairy industry should be one of four steps taken to improve the management of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, according to a leading think-tank.

The Australia Institute has released its four-step plan which includes pausing the basin plan, holding a federal royal commission or federal Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation and developing policies to ensure diversity in basin agriculture.

The Australia Institute senior water researcher Maryanne Slattery said there were no ‘‘easy’’ solutions, but the reforms would be a first step.

‘‘Pausing the basin plan means pausing accreditation of water resource plans and other changes to water recovery, but should not affect environmental watering, indigenous collaboration or development of policy on constraints and environmental water protection,’’ she said.

The think-tank is advocating that the pause not be lifted until: emergency relief for southern basin irrigators and communities is delivered; a policy framework for regional economic development, including the structure of the agricultural industry, is developed; and the findings of a federal royal commission is completed.

More water also needs to be made available to dairy farmers according to the body.

‘‘Efficient family dairy farms that have passed down through generations are at immediate risk due to high water prices driven by drought and new demand at the SA border,’’ the think-tank said.

‘‘Water should be made available from the South Australian deferred entitlement account as an opening allocation in the 2019 water year.

‘‘Without a new approach to regional economic development, industries such as dairy and rice will be lost, while almonds and cotton dominate.’’

The Australia Institute conceded that while many of the ideas have support ‘‘inside and outside the basin’’, changes must occur by those with ‘‘political will’’.