With Federal Parliament resuming next week, time is running out for the Senate to vote down an irresponsible motion from the Greens to derail much-needed amendments to the Water Act 2007 for northern Murray-Darling Basin farmers and communities.
Senators will have five sitting days to decide if they agree to the recommendations from the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) Northern Basin Review that would reduce water recovery across the whole northern basin from 390GL to 320GL.
For Queensland, the amendment means that 36GL less would be recovered under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – a much-needed and welcome reprieve for the state’s Basin farmers and communities that are already acutely feeling the effects of water recovery to date. Disallowing these amendments means the original Plan will be implemented and would have devastating impacts.
The independent Northern Basin Review quantified the economic and social impacts water recovery has and will continue to have on the Condamine-Balonne communities, and identified that amendments were needed. The review found a combination of more targeted water recovery and the adoption of the toolkit measures could be used without compromising environmental outcomes.
The MDBA advised that pursuing targets under the original Basin Plan would result in further large socio-economic impacts in the Condamine-Balonne. Dirranbandi has already lost an estimated 27 per cent of its irrigation area and more than 15pc of agriculture and non-agriculture private sector jobs since water buybacks commenced. In St George, jobs in agriculture have dropped by more than 15pc and non-agriculture private sector jobs are down more than 20pc. By reducing the water recovery target from 390GL to 320GL across the northern Basin, the MDBA predicted it would preserve at least 200 jobs in irrigation-dependent communities, while continuing to deliver the same positive environmental outcomes.
In Brisbane, 200 jobs may not mean much, but across towns like Dirranbandi and St George it can mean make or break. The effects of water recovery for smaller economies that are highly irrigation-dependent are significant. When enough people and economic activity leave small towns, schools close, shops shut, and houses and other assets people work their whole lives for are severely devalued.
It is important to remember that when the Basin Plan was signed into law by the then Federal Labor Government on November 22, 2012 it included a commitment to complete the Northern Basin Review, recognising that knowledge and understanding of the northern Basin was not as comprehensive as the southern Basin and required improvement.
Until recently, the Basin Plan had received solid bi-partisan support from the Basin states. However, now that we are getting towards the end of implementing the Plan and South Australia is headed towards an election, political will and ambition appears to be derailing long-standing collaboration.
At the state level, the Basin Plan has rightfully had the support of successive Queensland governments. When the Northern Basin Review was released, the Queensland Labor Government publicly welcomed and supported the findings and called for a strategy to achieve these changes and amendments.
Partisan opposition at the expense of regional Queensland communities cannot be an option for Queensland’s Labor Senators. They should strive to represent our state’s interests and be focused on balancing the needs of our productive industries, the environment and the communities that call these places home – the underpinning foundation of the Basin Plan.