Murray-Darling Basin royal commission must happen

By Country News

Robert Watson


I am responding to the assertion that Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum recently made, that the Liberal Party was holding back reform to water policy.

May I remind you Damian, that in both state and federal parliaments with Coalition governments, the National Party generally holds the portfolio for water.

I also remind you of the considerable work that your predecessor Dr Sharman Stone (Liberal) made to the Coalition on water policy in regard to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Her knowledge on this subject was immense. Unfortunately, a lot of her advice went unheeded.

A couple of months ago in the Country News I refuted a claim by Peter Walsh that the Liberal Party was not interested in a royal commission. This was not correct.

At the last state conference in Ballarat for the state Liberal Party, three resolutions were passed without one objection concerning the problems associated with the basin plan.

One was to create a royal commission to view the plan’s overall performance.

As Victorians, we believe we have been “dudded” with the implementation of the plan.

For example, more than 80 per cent of water now owned by the Environmental Water Holder has come from cash-strapped Goulburn Murray Irrigation District irrigators during the millennium drought.

Little wonder we now see rural ghettos right across the Nicholls electorate.

Another issue has been the granting of diversion water licences, by state governments, in the northern parts of the basin, over the past 30 years.

This has allowed floodwater harvesting, where the recipients have mainly been corporate cotton farms, many with overseas investments.

The seats in this region area are largely held by the National Party and it is quite understandable that politicians in these areas would want to maintain the status quo.

The consequence, however, in granting these licences has been the degradation of the lower Darling and extreme pressure it has placed on the southern rivers which now have to be “irrigation channels”, supplying increased demands to South Australia.

Before the issuing of these licences, 40 per cent of South Australia requirements came down the Darling, now it is less than nine per cent.

The continual high water demands has caused these rivers banks to collapse due to the type of clay soils (Sodosol soils).

Of course another compounding problem has been the granting of pumping licences to the corporate almond farms in the western areas of this state.

Once again this will place enormous pressure on the consumptive pool in these regions (I feel sorry for the existing irrigators), plus the southern river systems.

A comment that Mick Keelty made in his report was the low inflows in the southern catchment over the past 20 years.

A comment that Judy Brewer also raised in  The Weekly Times recently.

This by and large has been due to the gradual influence in the movement of the sub-tropical ridge.

Therefore this raises the question that both South Australia with its 690 Gl dilution flow incorporated in its annual allocation of 1850 Gl and the environment, including what supplements the Lower Lakes, must share more of the pain with irrigators in southern NSW and Victoria with this diminishing supply of water.

In conclusion I hope that a royal commission will operate outside the influence of both bureaucrats and politicians to unravel this mess.

Also Damian, the Liberal Party in this state is very interested in implementing water reform.