MDBA challenged at meetings

By Sophie Baldwin

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority continues to face criticism surrounding poor advertising of its meetings and accuracy of the data it presents.

The authority held two meetings at the start of October in Shepparton and Moama that even Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum was unaware of.

“I was disappointed a high level meeting was held and it wasn't highlighted the CEO of the MDBA and CEWH were in attendance,” Mr Drum said.

He said he stood up several times during the meeting to clarify different points.

“The MDBA is biased toward the environment and totally disinterested in the plight of agriculture and their ability to make a difference.

“They have no understanding a farm is an environment, they have a very utopian view and an endless list and insatiable appetite to justify the use of the water they have at their disposal.”

Mr Drum said it was clear the MDBA had created pain and detriment within the agriculture sector.

He would like to see some flexibility introduced, especially during dry years, where environmental water is put onto the temporary market.

Berrigan's Graeme Pyle attended the Shepparton meeting.

“It was a very sad meeting for local irrigators, conducted by those (MDBA) who we expect to know what is going on,” Mr Pyle said.

He said the authority was challenged on numerous occasions on the accuracy of its data.

He said Commonwealth Environmental Water Office senior executive officer Hilton Taylor produced a diagram showing river flows before and after dams, which included a beneficial line for maximum environmental benefit.

“The diagram was from 1990 to 2018,” Mr Pyle said.

“There was no recognition of the loss of the Darling flows and the increase in over-bank flows caused by the massive increase in flows down the Murray River, to make up for the northern basin shortfall.”

Mr Pyle said MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde stated the Darling River only contributed 17 per cent of Murray flows into South Australia, but when challenged by a member of the audience that the figure was closer to 39 per cent, Mr Glyde declined to back himself.

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Jody Swirepik told the meeting irrigators extracted 90 per cent of all water from the river system above the Lower Lakes.

“This figure was strongly challenged,” Mr Pyle said.

“She was reminded 33,800 Gl falls in the basin, 11,500 Gl can be extracted by irrigators, 13,000 Gl goes to the environment and 10,000 Gl is unmeasured.

“Ms Swirepik had no explanation for this wrong percentage, which is closer to 30 per cent.”

Former dairy farmer Russell Crichton, from Cohuna, attended the Moama meeting.

He said of the 35 people in attendance he thought only six represented the farming community.

“We had about an hour of looking at confusing graphs which the MDBA were trying to use to prove the plan is working perfectly,” Mr Crichton said.

“The MDBA are drowning gum trees and breeding carp through their environmental waterings while destroying the northern Victorian dairy industry.”

The public information sessions were part of a series hosted by the MDBA and CEWH covering the climate outlook for the coming season, Murray River operations and water for the environment activity in the southern basin.