Dairy push on basin plan bill

The dairy contingent speaking to the Coalition panel in Shepparton included (from left) ACM CEO Jason Limbrick, Australian Dairy Products Federation executive officer Janine Waller, Noumi head of technical Tom Dickins and Fonterra supplier Paul Weller.

Changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have passed the House of Representatives, setting up a Senate showdown on the reform.

The laws would put in place a new plan with all basin states, except for Victoria, after the Federal Government said the old agreement was not on track to meet its water recovery targets.

The original proposal aimed to return 450 gigalitres of additional water to the environment by June 2024, but the new laws would push back the deadline to December 2027.

While the laws passed the House of Representatives, the Coalition and Greens have criticised the proposal, meaning its passage through the Senate is uncertain.

Dairy industry representatives, dairy farmer lobby groups and regional councils have all criticised the basin plan changes.

They have been meeting with federal MPs and senators to urge them to oppose the changes.

In Shepparton on October 2, a number of dairy representatives presented to a Coalition panel taking submissions on the change, which would see the government enter the market to buy water for the environment.

A Senate committee looking into the proposed change to basin plan is not visiting the regions, so the Coalition decided to mount its own inquiry and submit its findings to the official committee.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council has put a submission to the Senate committee, quoting from a report by Sefton Consultants in 2020 which examined the social and economic impacts of the basin plan.

The final report describes a mixed, but overall significantly negative, impact on basin communities, finding:

  • “As a panel, we were disheartened to see communities at a crossroads despite countless studies, reviews and inquiries. Visions and policies in our irrigated communities focusing on overall gains have not dealt fairly with those left behind, nor worked hard enough to be fully inclusive.”
  • “The pace [of change] has been rapid and the impacts profound. The future is no longer secure or certain for some people and regions, despite their hard work. Morale has eroded, and a sense of hopelessness is spreading; in many cases, people no longer feel confident in their future. These impacts are not only being felt in the ‘back pocket’, but witnessed in the main streets of towns, and in the prospects for our next generation.”

The Sefton Review found that “recovering more consumptive irrigation water will have significant negative impacts for some regional basin communities, including NSW Murray and northern Victoria”.

Chaired by Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, the Coalition panel in Shepparton heard statements from City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Shane Sali, the Australian Dairy Products Federation and several farmers.

They all warned of the social and economic impacts of removing more water from the consumptive pool of the southern basin.

The Coalition panel has no legal status and does not have the protection afforded to official committees of the parliament.

The Greens, who have previously threatened to block the laws, abstained from the lower house vote, saying the party would reach its final position on the proposal following the Senate inquiry.