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Key Water Blog

NIC newsletter 12/7/2019

CEO Comment 

The 4Corners program early this week highlights the problem of trying to get a balanced and constructive commentary on such a complex issue.

The Basin Plan is complex and controversial, and sometimes all the public sees is the fact that nobody particularly likes it.  Unfortunately, 4Corners didn’t make much effort to give the public a balanced or informative position.

We along with many others have sought to correct the record on the very one sided presentation.  In this update I have provided links to a number of the documents issued by the groups which set out some facts and some answers.

One of the core problems with the 4Corners presentation was the failure to understand that there is a smaller, and finite, bucket of water available for irrigators.  20% of water that was previously available for irrigation has gone to the environment.  From the remaining amount if an irrigator wants to expand the amount of water they use then they have to buy it from another irrigator.

Unfortunately if you just saw 4Corners you might think people just use more water if they expand or plant a nut tree.  As I keep saying to people on social media, if you have a 10ML allocation that is all you can use, whether you use 10ML on nuts, cotton, rice or fodder is entirely up to you but you don’t get anymore.
It is pretty simple but constantly misrepresented.

The other issue is the complete failure to acknowledge why these programs are there and the fact that from day one of planning for the Basin Plan, the objective was to achieve an outcome that was healthy rivers, healthy communities and continued capacity to produce food and fibre.

As a person who has been involved in politics for (frightingly) nearly 40 years, I was personally blown away by the ethics of basing one of the major claims in the story on an uncorroborated recollection of a conversation, many years ago, between a disgruntled former MDBA employee and an unnamed Departmental official.  This becomes even more outrageous when you find out that the program had been provided with information about the step by step auditing of projects by the Department, MI and Ricegrowers, but chose not too use any of it.

Most of the groups represented by the links below were not asked for comment by 4Corners.

I want to assure NIC members that on behalf of our organisation I did contact 4Corners several weeks out from the program.  I offered assistance with identifying people, who could provide a counter point of view to the very limited sources I knew they were using, and also offered to be available for an interview.  All those offers were refused.

Personally I don’t see the ABC as biased overall and I sympathise with the terrific ABC Rural reporters who are frustrated that their knowledge is also ignored by the city centric ‘flagship’ current affairs.  It would be very hard though to say that this 4Corners program was doing anything other than pushing an agenda fed to them by a lobby group.

Why, you might ask, do they want to get rid of efficiency programs?  Afterall (contrary to the implication of 4Corners), the programs they were talking about are finished.

The last Government expenditure was allocated in 2015.

The reason is that by presenting the false view that the programs have not returned water to the environment and are too costly, these groups seek to build a view that not enough water has been taken and that all future water acquisition should be through buyback only.

No one should be fooled into thinking that working with these groups to discredit the Basin Plan will make it all go away, with water given back to production.  In our democracy, that is a naive fool’s paradise.

This is an agenda to unilaterally push to a recovery target of over 4,000 GL and in the interim recovery of the 450GL through buyback.  What the groups pushing this agenda can’t seem to get through their heads is that ripping up the Basin Plan to push those positions will destroy any semblance of trust and lead us into at least another decade of uncertainty and argument.

However, we also need to look ahead and consider the possible scenarios and what we can do to avoid the worst of them.  To be blunt, I can see a scenario where if we have not been able to get enough progress on the up-water and down-water by 2024, there will be pressure on Parliament to get both through buyback.  My view is we need to keep pressure on to make progress – consistent with the guarantees about community impact – on both, to ensure we do not face that situation.

We have had a very comprehensive and independent review of the Basin Plan by the Productivity Commission recently, it highlights the massive challenges and also ways forward.  It needs to be the basis for the next steps.

I also look forward to the ACCC tackling some of the issues in the water market and MinCo getting on top of delivery issues and losses.

The very real positive from this latest one sided attack is that we have seen a unanimous and strong response from agricultural peak bodies.  The response has been fact based and effective, though, not surprisingly, emotional, given we are talking about our communities and people’s livelihoods.

I would like to congratulate and thank all the groups who have responded so strongly.

Best wishes
Steve Whan

Links to responses to 4Corners ‘Cash Splash’

Department of Agriculture, Statement and point by point rebuttal

Minister for Water (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

MDBA (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

National Irrigators Council (4Corners refused offer of comment)

National Farmers Federation (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

Queensland Farmers Federation (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

NSW Irrigators Council (not asked for comment by 4Corners)

Ricegrowers (asked for written comment after the story promos started) – 4Corners Cash Splash – Shallow facts

Cotton Australia (not asked for comment) response to 4Corners ‘cash splash’

Murrumbidgee Irrigation media release

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