LETTER: Drought creates interesting meeting

The need to agree to a genuine test of socio-economic neutrality for efficiency programs is one of the big challenges of this Friday’s Murray Darling Basin ministers’ meeting in Melbourne.

Basin ministers’ meetings are always important because the basin plan will not succeed if it doesn’t have a co-operative approach from basin states.

Ministers (and basin plan watchers) must recognise that irrigators face very difficult conditions. Drought and negative impacts of previous water recovery mean communities are hurting and that needs to be taken into account. 

On the positive side, this meeting seems to approach with a sense of states being willing to work together. However, there are a couple of big challenges.

Basin ministers set themselves the task of agreeing socio-economic criteria for efficiency measures. As we have seen from the consultation the federal department undertook, there is nothing simple in that - but it is critical.

The basin plan, as agreed by Parliament in 2012, includes a requirement for 450GL of recovery from efficiency measures with no negative community impact.

We have made it clear these need to focus on off-farm options and on putting in place a socio-economic test that includes flow on impacts.

Getting an adequate and effective impact test is the first challenge.

The second is to plot a way forward on how to get off farm projects underway. We don’t think a tender process will achieve that, it needs a proactive and well-funded engagement, on the ground, so that communities are designing projects that meet their needs and the environmental objectives. 

Progress on the 605GL of supply measures is also critical. State governments are responsible for delivery and they must be held accountable for getting the job done. At the moment failure will cost irrigators and irrigation communities, that’s an unacceptable separation of the risk and responsibility.

Steve Whan, 

National Irrigators’ Council CEO