Plan frustration

By Southern Riverina News

Suggestions that social and economic factors should not be considered in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s implementation have been met with frustration by local campaigners.

Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar, who has been fighting for social and economic impacts to be given equal weight to environmental considerations for several years, said it is ‘‘un-Australian to sacrifice the livelihoods of a fellow group of hard-working Aussies for selfish gain’’.

The suggestion to ignore social and economic factors was intimated in the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Plan Royal Commission, handed down on Thursday by Commissioner Bret Walker SC.

The report states the commissioner is ‘‘not convinced’’ the additional 450 gigalitres water recovery agreed to in December 2018 would have a ‘‘negative impact on socio-economic outcomes for their Basin communities’’.

‘‘The commissioner is unaware of any convincing economic or other research which justifies this assertion,’’ the report reads.

‘‘While certain interest groups have sought to attribute negative economic and social impacts to buybacks, they have often failed to acknowledge (let alone dare complain about) what in truth have been some of the real drivers of the job contraction in parts of the Basin where water has also been recovered.’’

Mrs Scoullar said it was foolish to ignore the impact of the basin plan on people and their communities.

‘‘From the very start everyone was promised a Basin Plan that delivered for the environment and our rural communities,’’ she said.

‘‘Surely we have not reached a point where this nation is prepared to sacrifice farmers and the towns that depend on them, purely because one state — South Australia — is not prepared to undertake what should be seen as essential infrastructure works.

‘‘If we head down the path that the Royal Commission suggests, South Australia and the basin governments will be responsible for not only the destruction of the nation’s food bowl, but also the Murray River and its natural environment.’’

Mrs Scoullar said South Australia must become a more willing participant in finding solutions.

‘‘Commissioner Walker has recommended a complete overhaul of the plan, but if there is to be an ‘overhaul’ the first place to start is South Australia.

‘‘The key action required to fix many of the Basin Plan’s shortcomings is for the South Australian Government to come on board so they can be addressed.

‘‘At present we have a plan that is decimating rural communities and destroying parts of the Murray River environment. Yet these could be fixed if South Australia had a more proactive approach to finding solutions.

‘‘It seems some people are selective in our environmental objectives. Why is it okay to wreck upstream sections of the Murray River, so the South Australian Lower Lakes are kept at a suitable level for boating and other recreation?

‘‘Why isn’t the South Australian Government held to account when it holds water in the Lower Lakes for boating, instead of delivering that water into the Coorong, which it says needs protecting?’’

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks said the report’s findings come as no surprise, saying it ‘‘says what the South Australians wanted it to say, because they called for the commission’’.

‘‘I agree with almost everything in it because it says the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been terribly managed; we know that already,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘Southern Riverina Irrigators is supportive of the environment and the indigenous people, but do not ask us to be supportive of the Lower Lakes because they are neither indigenous or environmental.

‘‘If they need more to fix the Darling — which I don’t dispute — then go up north and get it.

‘‘All people in SRI on both sides of the river, especially the Murray Irrigation Limited side, are not to blame for any of the issues in South Australia. We have not over extracted, because we’ve had zero allocations.

‘‘If there’s a shortage of water go and see your cotton growing National Party voting mates in the north because they’re the ones killing the Darling.

‘‘They’re making a zero contribution to South Australia’s requirement and then there’s an exorbitant demand from the Murray. It is why we have zero allocation, it’s flooding our river and we’re getting environmental damage down here.’’

Mr Brooks said Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde and chair Neil Andrew should be ‘‘sacked, as they’re in charge of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’’.

‘‘The plan has allowed the northern guys to keep their water, it’s allowed South Australia to demand the volume of water and ruined the Darling with lack of flow and Murray from excessive flow,’’ he said.