Maranoa MP, David Littleproud, can expect a cool reception from the Paroo Shire Council when he meets councillors in Cunnamulla on Tuesday to discuss water buybacks.
Mr Littleproud, who is holidaying in the western Queensland shire, is taking the opportunity to talk through the impacts of the strategic purchase of 10.1 gigalitres from a Cunnamulla irrigator to meet Northern Basin Review targets, and to hear more about the shire’s long-term strategic vision.
Since the initial announcement in late July of a water buyback, followed by last week’s revelation of the amount that had been surrendered or gifted, Paroo shire mayor, Lindsay Godfrey, has been vocal in his condemnation of the move.
Speaking to the Queensland Country Life last week, he described it as a case of “a small shire in the west with limited political influence being taken to the cleaners”, objecting to the amount of water taken out of use and the lack of consultation, and asking for “significant compensation”.
Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources has bowed out of the conversation, saying its minister had worked with New South Wales and the Commonwealth on the Northern Basin Review, asking the federal government for strategic adjustments to be paid for heavily impacted communities.
“If there are socio-economic impacts then compensation, if applicable, would be a federal matter,” a spokesman said.
A federal Agriculture Department spokeswoman said they had legislated a 1500GL cap on water buybacks under the Murray Darling Basin plan in recognition of the impact of the loss of jobs to rural communities.
“Our priority remains recovering water through water infrastructure. Strategic purchases are considered on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
It was a similar theme from Mr Littleproud, who said compensation wouldn’t take the form of cash handouts.
“We’re not blindly handing over the cheque book,” he said. “We’d make sure it was key infrastructure that creates jobs and broadens the economy.”
That’s not likely to be a problem for Cr Godfrey, who said he had a number of ideas to put to Mr Littleproud, “but he only has taxpayers’ cash for irrigation apparently”.
The statement from Mr Littleproud that the Paroo shire hadn’t responded to correspondence in February asking about future plans were stoutly refuted by Cr Godfrey.
“We’ve had numerous meetings with him in Canberra, seeing health and other ministers.
“We mightn’t have had official communication but it’s not like we’ve not been in contact with him.
“And we certainly didn’t know about these water plans and their impact in February.”
According to the department, the vast majority of the Warrego’s available consumptive water remained for use by agriculture after the purchase, but Mr Littleproud will have a tough time pushing a message that despite the water loss, there was still potential for development under the licences already held.
Cr Godfrey said different river zones made this problematic.
As well as rules about water trading, there was probably half the water available downstream as there was upstream, he said.
“Opportunities do exist there, and that company is looking at its options, but it’s a much lesser asset.”
He likened his shire’s predicament to the southern border community of Dirranbandi, where school enrolment numbers have dwindled in the wake of four irrigation farms selling their water.
“We’ve heard all about the social impacts at Dirranbandi and St George – well, this is a major game changer for us.
“And the thing is, the Warrego was never over-allocated – there was no need to take water away from us.”