Blog | 24th Aug, 2011

Greenies vs ?

The debate on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is often presented as the ‘greenies’ versus the ‘struggling Aussie farmer’. But how accurate is this?

Recently there’s been a lot of media coverage about large corporations and multinational companies buying up prime Australian agricultural land. Victorian farmers themselves have also raised concerns over the amount of foreign ownership of Australian farms and how this affects our ability to feed ourselves into the future. As food security becomes a bigger concern, we’re seeing a global rush by large, multinational companies to buy farm land, to secure food supplies or simply make more money.

But what has food security got to do with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

Well, it’s not just land which is changing hands, but also water rights. Large corporations and multinational companies have been buying millions of litres of water rights in our most strategic food-producing areas, including the Murray-Darling Basin.

Crikey’s map of foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land shows that quite a few of these foreign owned farms are located in the Murray-Darling Basin and would rely on water allocations from the river systems for irrigation. For example, the Timbercorp Almond Project near Swan Hill was purchased in 2009 by the Singapore based company Olam International. This property came with access to nearly 90,000 megalitres of permanent water along the Murray.

So is the debate about the Murray-Darling Basin really ‘greenies’ vs the ‘struggling Aussie farmers’ or is it ‘Greenies’ vs ‘large corporations and multinational companies’?

Unfortunately no one really knows the answer to this question, because Australia has no reliable data on foreign ownership of farm land and accompanying water allocation. However, the Commonwealth Government have recently commissioned the ABS and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to investigate this. Once this report is released in September, we’ll have a better understanding of who actually owns water rights in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Knowing this could help environmentalists and family farmers to work together, to prioritise healthy rivers and healthy communities, over healthy multinational profits.
Find out how you can help the Murray-Darling Basin Plan turn things around for the Mighty Murray

Want to know more about corporate ownership of land and water?
Check out these links, which supplied some of the background info for this blog post.

Shut the gate: why cash-strapped landowners are selling the farm, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1/8/11
Farmers demand owners’ register, The Age, 4/8/11
Thirsty foreigners soak up scarce water rights, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4/8/10

Laura is a keen volunteer for Environment Victoria