Letters to the Editor

March 21, 2017

Goulburn Valley Environment Group president John Pettigrew.

GVEG remains rational 

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum member David McKenzie believes no rational person would argue that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be implemented at any cost, but continues to ask the question of me as president of Goulburn Valley Environment Group (Country News, March 14).

Can I, on behalf of GVEG, reassure Mr McKenzie that our group agrees with his belief, and therefore remains rational on this question?

The socio-economic implications of the plan on irrigation industries and communities of the basin were thoroughly assessed, and taken into account in the development of the basin plan, and in the final decision to return 2750Gl (subject to agreed sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanisms) of over-allocated water to our rivers.

This process ended in a compromised agreement that addressed in some way the over-allocation of water to industry throughout the Murray-Darling Basin in a way that optimised socio-economic factors.

Is the basin plan affordable? Mr McKenzie asks.

GVEG has a continuing view the basin plan has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our irrigation enterprises and connected industries to become resilient and sustainable, thereby underpinning future development and growth of our region.

Unfortunately GVEG’s vision for this transition has not been fully captured to date with successive governments, irrigation utilities, associated secondary industries and interest organisations having failed to optimise socio-economic factors, by grasping the unique opportunity to reduce the size of the GMID as intended by the original proponents of the program.

Projects such as the closure of Campaspe Irrigation District in 2010 should have become a blueprint for the successful retirement of marginal irrigation areas as part of the $2billion Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) and Connections project and lead to a profitable and everlasting regional irrigation system.

Just as water reforms have positively changed regulations dating back more than 100 years, so we must now modernise and rationalise the GMID’s infrastructure to prepare both for the challenges and the opportunities of the quickly changing world we live in.

We still have a chance to think beyond our immediate perceived needs and fortify our future.

GVEG will continue to advocate for the ongoing welfare and health of our rivers, and healthy vibrant industries and communities.

—John Pettigrew, GVEG president

Guilty parties need to admit they were wrong about plan

A key reason for the many problems associated with implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is refusal of the implementing body, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, to accept its failings.

The plan and the authority have serious inadequacies, yet there is a reluctance to accept them or do anything to fix them.

At a number of recent meetings MDBA staff, following questions from the public, hid behind the excuse that their hands were tied by legislation.

This was again highlighted by MDBA chief executive officer Phillip Glyde when he recently responded to public comments from a meeting in Deniliquin and denied the MDBA acknowledged that ‘‘the environment takes precedence ahead of communities and consumptive water users’’.

Anyone who knows the slightest detail about basin plan implementation fully understands that this is the very issue at the core of its failings.

It was recognised by the Senate inquiry into the plan last year which subsequently recommended: ‘‘The committee recommends that the government amend the Water Act 2007 to make clear the equal standing of economic, social and environmental needs and outcomes’’.

Further, Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps has publicly stated on a number of occasions that due to the legislation he must give primacy to the environment over the social and economic considerations each and every time.

At present I believe there would be general consensus across most of the basin that the plan is not delivering balanced ‘‘social, economic and environmental outcomes’’.

I have no doubt the 20 per cent of people who have lost their jobs in towns in the northern basin (as per MDBA’s northern basin review) would attest to this, as would those who have lost jobs in the Goulburn Valley (estimated in one report at 1000) and the NSW Murray Valley.

It’s quite ironic that Mr Glyde has been calling for ‘‘balance’’, which is precisely what the basin plan is not delivering to our rural communities.

I can only hope that the Victorian and NSW governments strengthen their resolve to stand up for their rural constituents who are being adversely affected by this disastrous plan.

I expect the South Australian Government will continue its mantra of ‘take, take, take — with no responsibility’ and the Federal Turnbull Government will continue sitting on its hands for fear of losing city voters.

As the MDBA’s charter dictates that it is supposed to be an independent body free of political influence, it is a shame Mr Glyde won’t publicly acknowledge the basin plan’s deficiencies and call on all governments to find effective, mature solutions that deliver an indisputable balanced triple bottom line, and once and for all correct the damaging political rhetoric that revolves around this bad plan, including the extra 450Gl.

—John Lolicato, Barham

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