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Key Water Blog

National Irrigators’ Council Report 5th December 2019

CEO Comment 

In my last update I outlined why NIC does not support calls to ditch the Basin Plan.  Everyone has the right to peacefully protest and put their point of view, and NIC certainly understands the anger and frustration expressed by some irrigators protesting in Canberra this week.

Our media release (NIC Media Release: Fix, don’t ditch, the Basin Plan) outlined again why we take this position.  As I said before the protests, we agree with many of the issues, we disagreed on how to fix them while avoiding an even worse result.  In some ways what we saw this week confirmed that working through the complex issues is a better long term solution than just advocating ‘can the plan’.

NIC strongly advocates addressing the problems with the Basin Plan via the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and we will again be urging Ministers to do more to address those when they meet on the 17th of December.   That includes getting on with the supply measures along with addressing issues like the salt export target.

As we have pointed out there are a number of other issues causing problems at the moment which are not Basin Plan.  The drought is at the core of many, there are no flows in the Northern Basin and that has now put incredible pressure on the Murray in meeting commitments to South Australian flows.   The various shares, allocation decisions and the rules applying are all causing hurt and confusion as are losses and constraints.

NIC has raised these issues with Government and we have backed NSW Irrigators Council and many of their members who have been working extremely hard over a considerable period of time, with Government, to try to address real problems in these areas – as well as with the drafting of Water Resources Plans.

I do welcome the outcome of the meetings between Southern Basin groups and the Minister last week which has seen the announcement of an investigation.

In his letter to State water Ministers, Minister Littleproud says he has asked the interim inspector general, Mick Keelty, to investigate:

  • The impact of changing distribution of inflows to the southern Basin on state shares under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement; and
  • Consider any consequential impacts on state water shares resulting from reserves required under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, including how these interact with state water allocation policies.

I note that the letter asks the States to assist Mr Keelty’s inquiries by seconding officers from their departments to assist with the inquiry.

I do hope this investigation gives us some suggestions for change which can benefit irrigators and can be accepted by Basin states.  There can be no doubt about Mr Keelty’s independence, and I hope that gives it a good change of breaking through some of the suspicions that characterise any suggestion of change.

We do need to be realistic though.  When the Minister was asked by a reporter (transcript of doorstop press conference here) “have you promised any farmers extra water?” he gave a very clear answer of “no”.

We have also seen immediate responses from the Victorian and South Australian Governments which made it clear they would not agree to any change which disadvantaged their states.

The positive is that they have not ruled out, altogether, considering recommendations.

We will continue to work constructively with all Governments on all the issues along with our members right across the Basin and other representative groups like NSW Irrigators Council and Farmers groups.

In the lead up to the next Ministerial Council meeting the NSW Government has put out a media release setting out demands on the Basin Plan.   While we appreciate the strong support from NSW for irrigators, we have expressed concern about threats to leave the Basin Plan.  We wrote to NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro a few weeks ago making the our members’ position clear: NIC’s letter to NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

The Basin issues have dominated this week but our other work on energy does go on.  Tomorrow we have a meeting of the Ag Energy Taskforce.  At this meeting we will be undertaking some strategic planning, identifying the priority issues to address and what sort of resources we can get to help.

It is always a difficult balance given we do our work on energy on a shoestring, but we are often up against massive energy companies with dozens of people working on their submissions.

We do appreciate the engagement we get from other peak bodies and for this planning process we very much appreciate the support Energy Consumers Australia is providing.

Best wishes
Steve Whan


Click here to read about NIC submission on basin issues, NIC submission to the ACCC water market inquiry, Renewables in Ag Conference and much more from NIC

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