The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is really quite simple – it’s a $13billion investment in river health and sustainable water use. Yet it is subject to a constant barrage of criticism from user groups and political attempts to undermine its environmental outcomes.
In fact the Turnbull government is investing $2.5 million a day in improved infrastructure for irrigation communities. It’s hard to think of any industry sector, let alone an agricultural sector, that is receiving this level of tax payer support.
This massive investment seems to have been forgotten with a renewed outcry over the supposed impacts of the Basin Plan on irrigation communities. Coupled with a ‘hard hat mentality’ in both the Turnbull and Andrews governments that prioritises infrastructure solutions over real water, the Plan’s problems are mounting.
It’s time to separate myth from reality and check out what the impacts of the Plan really are.
To implement the Basin Plan, the Commonwealth government is investing over $2.5 million per day in ‘the future of irrigated agriculture’ every day for the next 4 years. This money is going into making irrigation infrastructure more efficient so that more value can be created from less water.
Water is in short supply due to drying conditions and drought in the northern Basin and high demand from new and existing users in the southern Basin. The price of water is subject to market forces just like any other commodity.
Overall the Basin Plan will transfer about 20% of water entitlements from consumptive use to the environment. In 2019 there will still be 10,873 GL available for irrigation and other consumptive use, as compared to 2750 GL available to the environment. In terms of farm productivity, the overall value of irrigated production is rising.
Purchase of water from willing sellers has been recognised as the most cost effective and efficient means of water recovery for the environment by both the Productivity Commission and the Turnbull Government’s National Commission of Audit.
Government tenders have been enthusiastically taken up by the irrigation community with every single tender in the southern Basin oversubscribed. A 2012 survey showed that 80% of irrigators who had sold water to the Government thought the decision was a positive one and most wanted general tenders to resume.
Rivers and wetlands need real water to be healthy, not more concrete. Engineering can be useful for delivering water to wetlands in times of drought when there is no other way, but it is not the solution to reconnecting rivers with their floodplains and keeping the Murray mouth open.
The volume of environmental water will not be sufficient to cause more than brief, minor flooding even when the Basin Plan is fully operational. Environmental watering is designed to reinstate vital components of a variable flow regime, not major floods. The Commonwealth government has set aside $200 million to remedy the impacts so that environmental water can be delivered without causing hardship.
“This river is the most important thing we have in this country and it has to come first, everything else is secondary, whether it is about farmers making a living or growing food for the world.
“There can’t be two ways about this because if the river wasn’t here, or its ecology wasn’t healthy, then neither would they be; the Murray is truly the lifeblood of this land” – Mal Thompson, The Australian 14/7/15.
 Bob Baldwin Hansard
 Basin Plan s6.04
 MDBA Basin Plan Annual Report 2013-14