The recent announced closure of three Murray Goulburn factories has highlighted some of the serious issues facing sectors of Australian agriculture.
While some agricultural regions are enjoying boom times, others are struggling under the weight of poor decision-making.
And an often unrecognised consequence is the damage this causes to rural communities.
The Speak Up campaign acknowledges that management issues have played a key role in the closure of the Murray Goulburn factories, and says the impact will be felt hard by small country towns which rely on the income they generate.
However, the role played by governments in destroying parts of the dairy industry also needs to be understood.
Spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said governments, in particular successive federal governments, must take some of the blame. It’s time they recognised their failed policies and started taking steps to rectify them, she said.
‘‘We have had 20 years of questionable water policy that is wreaking havoc on parts of our agricultural sector, especially in the food bowls of northern Victoria and southern New South Wales,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.
‘‘During that time, various efforts at water reform have removed about 4,000 gigalitres of productive water from food and fibre producers. That’s the equivalent of eight Sydney Harbours.
‘‘And for what? We have no solid evidence to indicate exactly how much water is needed for the environment, nor a cost:benefit analysis to determine the true cost to the Australian taxpayer.
‘‘What we do have is increased river bank erosion, an explosion in European carp numbers, less food production and less jobs in rural communities.’’
Mrs Scoullar explained that reducing productive water has had a significant impact on dairy farmers, especially those in northern Victoria and southern NSW.
The ‘shrinking bucket’ has increased competition for this essential resource, and as a consequence this has pushed up water prices, as well as the cost to deliver water for those left in the system.
Mrs Scoullar described the environmental objectives of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as ‘‘a pretence’’, stating that if it was genuinely about ecological outcomes throughout the basin, we would see greater emphasis on projects which achieved these goals.
This would include complementary measures such as native fish restocking programs as a priority, instead of simply pouring more water into the system and supporting an explosion of European carp breeding.
Governments and their authorities would also be demanding infrastructure improvements in the Lower Lakes in an effort to reduce evaporation losses and save huge volumes of precious water.
There would not be a fixation on sending huge volumes over the South Australian border, nor on keeping the Murray Mouth open which, in fact, goes against recorded history.
‘‘At this particular time our thoughts are with the rural communities which will suffer untold economic loss from the closure of Murray Goulburn plants,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.
‘‘It’s not just the workers who will suffer — small businesses will inevitably close and home owners face reduced property values.
‘‘But let’s be very clear about what is happening. Today it’s towns like Rochester that are reeling, next time it will be another small community that can no longer cope with a range of issues, many of which revolve around loss of productive water.
‘‘Politicians need to take drastic steps to fix this mess that they have created.’’