News | 3rd Jun, 2011

Murray Darling reform without the buybacks

Friday, 3 June 2011
Warwick Long, ABC Rural 

A government committee reviewing the Murray Darling Basin Plan says the basin can be saved without widespread water buy-backs. 

The committee which has cross party support outlined 21 recommendations that they believe can give the same environmental outcome but with a lesser social and economic impact.

Independent Member for New England Tony Windsor says his committee has succeeded where the basin authority has failed.

"it is a different approach because it (the committee) engages with the community."

"The authority although it did a lot of work in terms of the science didn't actually didn't engage with the communities very well."

It recommends improving the way the Murray Darling Basin Authority consults, a halt to "non-strategic" water buybacks, restrictions on mining in the Basin, and the creation of a national water fund.

The inquiry was set up after rural communities reacted angrily to authority's guide to the draft plan, which called for large cuts to irrigation entitlements right down the Murray-Darling system.

Mr Windsor says his report shows there are ways to reform the system without pain in rural communities.

"We understand now that if you engage with the community it's not hard to get more water back into the system."

"It's not hard."

"Some of it requires money, some requires change in policy, some requires some change in governance, but there is a way through this that does achieve the win/win outcome."

Irrigators happy with support

Understandably Irrigators are praising the report which says widespread cuts to their entitlements are not required.

Danny O'Brien from the National Irrigators Council says it is up to the government to act on the committee report which it's own members have worked on.

"The key now is for the government to make a response to actually adopt some of these recommendations."

"The Windsor committee has struck the right balance saying we can have this basin plan delivering a healthy environment but it doesn't have to come at the expense of irrigators and their communities."

Environmental groups wants more not less water to save system

Environmental Campaigners disagree with the committees recommendations.

They say buybacks are the cheapest way to save the basin and they are needed to get the best result.

Kelly O'Shannessy CEO of Environment Victoria says governments should be focussed on doing more not less for the environment.

"The water buy back program is really the only program we have got to return the Murray river to a level of health."

Cuts to fruit quotas at SPC Ardmona

Victorian fruit growers say a decision from SPC Ardmona to change to long term supply agreements will hurt smaller pear growers.

The company have told growers they're moving away from a quota system to preferred fruit supplier contracts.

SPC Ardmona have also told growers they expect their pear intake to drop by two thousand tonnes next harvest.

John Wilson from Fruit Growers Victoria says the decision to switch to preferred fruit suppliers will cause growers to leave the industry.

"If you have a contract to supply fruit you know you have a home for your fruit."

"If you don't have a contract you have no certainty of where your fruit's going to go."

"So if you have grown fruit specifically for a cannery and you don't have a contract, you will not be able to supply unless they need excess."

"It's a situation that means that growers will most likely bulldoze those trees."

Meanwhile the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh, has ruled out introducing government assistance to encourage food processors to stay in the Goulburn Valley.

Mr Walsh, the Minister for Manufacturing, Richard Dalla-Riva and the local member for Shepparton, Jeanette Powell have met with representatives of SPC Ardmona to discuss a company review of operations.

There were concerns the company may be planning to move overseas but Mr Walsh says he believes SPC has no intention of leaving the Goulburn Valley.

He says there is not enough money to provide food manufacturers with government assistance.

"It's about how government work with those businesses, in this case SPC, about how we make sure we reduce any impediments to their business or any cost pressures that are put on their business by government regulations or rules in the future."