Balonne Shire mayor Samantha O'Toole has issued an invitation to crossbench senators to look people in her communities in the eye before they "destroy them with the swipe of a pen".
Her feisty comments come after the Albanese government and Australian Greens this week agreed to amendments to Murray-Darling Basin plan laws, which as well as pushing forward the recovery of 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water by December 31, 2027, would allow the government to push for additional water recovery in the northern basin.
The amendments were being debated in the Senate this week.
Cr O'Toole said that having decisions made about ways to keep their communities and environment strong by people in Canberra, who hadn't visited her region, let alone lived there, was beyond irresponsible.
"We invite crossbench senators to visit the communities they are about to devastate with these amendments," she said.
"While out here we will take them for a tour around the farms that provide food for our nation, the farms that provide raw textiles that clothe our nation, and the schools and communities that were devastated by the last buybacks.
"All these amendments will do is create an environment where more of our nation's food and textiles are imported from overseas and that doesn't create stronger regional communities, that doesn't create a stronger nation. That will just decimate our regional communities and create a weaker nation for our future."
Cr O'Toole said the last time water allocation buybacks happened, Dirranbandi lost 12 families which, in a town of 600 people, was beyond devastating in terms of flow-on impacts. The community lost an estimated 27 per cent of its irrigation area and more than 15pc of agriculture and non-agriculture private sector jobs in the earlier buybacks.
"If the federal government focused investment on working with local farmers to help with water efficiency measures, we could arrive at water reductions while we continue producing food and fibre for our nation," Cr O'Toole added.
Coalition water spokesperson Perin Davey said they had been having conversations with crossbench senators all week, advocating for the original Basin plan requirement, written in by then-Water Minister Tony Burke, that any water recovered was to result in neutral or improved socio-economic conditions, reinstated.
"We're working on having caps on buybacks, which we got bipartisan support for when we were in government," she said.
"The bill proposes to remove it, but buybacks are just one tool for the government.
"We say they should keep the cap, do the hard work, and find more savings in the system.
"Buybacks should be the option of last resort."
Ms Davey said the Albanese-Greens deal meant that the 450GL recovery target, once considered to be from southern water, opened the door to obtaining it from anywhere in the basin.
"They'd be able to go back to the Balonne shire and see if there's any more willing sellers," she said.
"I think rather than willing, they'd be stressed sellers.
"Banks are knocking, debts have to be repaid - water's one thing they've got to sell."
She said water sold for environmental purposes couldn't be used any other way, which took that water right out of the equation.
"And in the past, there's evidence that when the government enters the market, prices go up and the government pays a premium," she said.
Fellow federal Nationals colleague David Littleproud said the deal with the Greens was taking away the tools of Australian farmers to produce food and fibre in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
"You are going to tear away your food security and you are going to drive up your food prices, all because of ideology," he said. "And you are going to reopen up the trauma that those regional communities have faced."
Professor Nick Bond, the director of the Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems at La Trobe University's Albury-Wodonga campus, released a statement saying that if the bill was passed, the deal would be an important step in securing the long-term health of the basin's ecosystems, especially in ensuring that sufficient water will be available to protect ecosystems during future droughts.
"The deal also supports First Nations' water access and despite delays, will help ensure the goals of the plan can be delivered in the long-run," he said.
A senior lecturer at La Trobe's business school, Dr Tim Clune said the removal of the cap on water buybacks strengthened the government's capacity to negotiate with Basin water users in a meaningful manner.
"The lack of the capacity to utilise buybacks as a potential negotiating tool has meant that there has been little incentive for existing water reduction commitments to be fulfilled. To date it has largely been all carrot and no stick," he said.
"So, while the removal of the cap on purchases does not mean that buybacks will be used extensively, it now means that they can be. That shifts the focus for future basin outcome negotiations.
"It's important to note that enabling buybacks is one part of legislative reform to enable more equitable, more effective and more transparent utilisation of Murray-Darling Basin waters in the delivery of economic, environmental and cultural outcomes for farmers, communities and First Nations people."