Given them an inch.......

By Shelley Scoullar

Over the past fortnight there has been a lot said and written about Australia’s irrigation industry and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Most of it has not been complimentary of food and fibre producers, and overall it has painted the Basin Plan as failing the environment. But unfortunately, for ideological and political reasons, we have seen predominantly a selective and discriminatory view.

The ABC Four Corners’ program on the Basin Plan raised serious issues which need to be addressed, however they should also be considered in perspective which, to this point, has not occurred.

Allegations of water irregularities by irrigators in the Barwon Darling system have, by association, tarred all irrigators with this same brush of irresponsibility.

None of the media reports or political commentary has pointed out that in the Murray system there are different regulations and monitoring methods, and due to technology advances it has become virtually impossible to tamper with meters and ‘steal’ water.

The failure to separate problems on the Darling River system with those on the Murray shows an alarming lack of understanding of the Basin Plan’s complexities, or a deliberate exploitation of an issue. Resolving challenges on the Darling is critical, but South Australia must not use this issue for ideological or political advantage.

Not once have we heard in the commentary anything like, “South Australia’s minimum flows are secure; its water comes predominantly from the Murray system so this (Barwon Darling issue) has very little impact on South Australia’s supply”.

Nor has anyone in South Australia, or our media outlets, highlighted the significant issues in the Lower Lakes which must be addressed to achieve a balanced and effective Basin Plan. Instead we have a traditionally estuarine system which, for some inexplicable reason, we are trying to ‘fix’ with huge quantities of upstream water from the Murray.

There are serious environmental issues being exacerbated by the present approach to the Basin Plan. Just putting large overbank flows down the Murray River will result in unprecedented river bank erosion, land inundation, carp explosions due to massive watering of prime breeding grounds and unnatural hypoxic blackwater events killing native fish. Yet politicians choose to remain silent about the existence of these environmental issues.

There is a lack of balance and failure to tell the whole story about the Basin Plan that is extremely frustrating for people who are living its failings. It is important to fix the Darling River issues, but South Australia should not use this to gain further political advantage.

Communities are affected and people are losing jobs, despite promises of a ‘triple bottom line’, giving equal prominence to environmental, economic and social factors. Those who are living the plan know this is not happening.

It was an issue raised during the 2015 Senate Inquiry which delivered over 30 recommendations that have been ignored.

Yet now we have calls for a Judicial Inquiry. Why not first implement recommendations from the first inquiry, then consider whether we need another one?

Too many people are unwilling to look at the Basin Plan in its entirety – to take a holistic, common-sense approach to determining how we can deliver a plan that protects the environment, rural communities and helps our farmers play their role in providing fresh, green food for our nation and people throughout the world.

Whether or not this can be changed in the present political climate is problematic, but it’s a dream to which rural communities affected by the plan will continue to aspire.