A message from Sam Birrell MP Federal member for Nicholls

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan legislation that was presented to Parliament on September 6 has sent shock waves through our community, and there’s concern that we may lose a significant proportion of the main economic driver of our community, which is irrigation water.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was supported by all sides of government.

I think most right-minded people agree with the concept of taking some water away from irrigation for the Commonwealth to use for environmental purposes. We want a healthy river system, and there have been some positive outcomes from local organisations using environmental water. The question over the plan has always been how much should be taken.

So far, well over 2,000 gigalitres has been taken away from irrigation licence.

That has damaged the economy in basin communities, and it has damaged people’s ability to farm. But it has been done in good faith to try to get some better environmental outcomes.

The way that the then Labor Party started to do it, which was just to buy it outright from farmers, caused incredible distress and economic damage around basin communities.

A better way of doing it was through ‘on-farm irrigation efficiency’. That’s where, instead of just selling the water, the farmer ‘sells’ the water to the government for a premium on the proviso that, the farmer must use the money for an irrigation upgrade, whether it be a centre pivot, improved flood irrigation or drip irrigation, where more crop can be grown with less water.

The plan had an extra component of 450 gigalitres.

That was a deal done with South Australia at the last minute in the plan. The figure of 450 gigalitres is huge. It equates to the annual irrigation of 50,000 to 75,000 hectares of orchard. Crucially, that 450 gigalitre amount involved a caveat that it could not be taken if it would be socio-economically damaging to basin communities.

It had to be positive or neutral.

That was a very important and very well understood part of the original plan that is being trashed by this new Labor version.

Taking that water away damages society in the electorate of Nicholls and damages the economy.

Every bit of that water is used to grow something that we should be proud of, whether it’s apples, pears, peaches, or dairy products, and it is so valuable because, when those things are grown, people get employed—not just the farmer who grows the produce but the people who are involved processing and packing the products, and those involved in getting that produce to market.

It could be turning milk into cheese, which is done in so many factories across the Goulburn Murray.

All of this has an amazing value. We talk about the cost of water, but we don’t talk about the value of what it produces.

Labor’s plan is to disregard the socioeconomic impact test, it is a retrograde step. I will fight against it.

This is such a damaging piece of legislation, and those who have proposed it should be ashamed.