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Key Water Blog

NIC newsletter 6th April 2020

CEO Comment

A couple of new documents on the NIC web site.  Joy has put together a terrific summary of our activities over the 2018-19 year for members in our 2019 annual report – reads well and looks great. 

The second is our submission to the ‘Sefton’ independent panel on social and economic impacts in the Murray Darling Basin, I’ve put a bit more on that in summary below.

Not surprisingly, the efforts of all in Government, and many in the community, are currently focused on COVID-19 response, but it is reasonable to put a bit of thought into what impact this huge (and tragic) event is going to have on some of the longer term issues we deal with. 

On the Basin Plan, we already knew we were well behind in a number of areas.  This has been highlighted by the Productivity Commission, the NSW/Vic independent review of constraints and recently by the ‘Sefton’ panel.  The most worrying of these, is the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Measures (SDLAM), the 605GL of supply projects.

We know that if Governments do not deliver an equivalent of 605GL, we will face more buyback, with massive negative impacts on irrigation communities. 

A few weeks ago, Joy and I attended an update on the SDLAM projects, coordinated by the MDBA. The news on some was quite good, but on a couple of the most significant, it confirmed that progress was limited. 
Particularly when it comes to the community involvement in design and implementation. 

This is where the current crisis crosses over historic lack of progress.  The social distancing rules we need to ensure the toll of this pandemic is kept as low as possible, are effectively putting yet another halt on real progress on key challenges.  Its hard to see much progress being made in 2020 and that puts us just three years away from those hard deadlines, baked into the Basin Plan legislation.

We need to start a conversation, now, about shifting the time-frames and introducing much more flexibility on projects, to get the environmental outcomes that must be achieved to ensure no further buyback. The conversation has to be bipartisan, and it has to be driven by people recognising that we have to achieve outcomes, not just deferral of problems.

NIC has written to Minister Pitt along these lines. 

Inevitably, some people with long running issues do see a crisis as an opportunity to link their issue, as always NIC will be taking a considered approach looking at real impacts and suggesting constructive solutions.  That is what we are seeking to do here as well.

The second issue causing concern is one raised, also very reasonably, by Sunrice around the dual impact of drought and disruption to international trade on Australian rice supplies. 

 Australia does not have a food security problem, in fact overall we continue (even after some very tough years) to be well and truly capable of supplying our own needs and helping food security for many other countries.  I noted the Weekly Times saying Australian farmers can feed 75 million people – something every Australian should be proud of.

That doesn’t mean that there are not combinations of events that can put pressure on a particular commodity.  Rice is in that situation, very low Australian production (as a result of no water) has combined with restrictions on exports from Vietnam to produce the concern we saw expressed last week.

This has prompted a conversation about food security and water. I know the NSW Irrigators Council is active in his area and NIC will also be taking an interest. 

For those active on social media, you would have seen that broader concerns about supplies have fed (pardon the pun) into anti open-market views.  Australia unequivocally benefits from being a trading nation, our agricultural exports result in hundreds of thousands of incomes for Australians, and they directly contribute to the standard of living we enjoy – and to the National income that has allowed us to afford to have one of the world’s best health systems.

The world has watched countries with closed economies before, they fall further an further behind until they are left with poverty, inequity, and poorly educated workforces stuck in low pay, low skill, jobs. 

We can – and should – take the opportunity of the current very low dollar to have a much better look at what additional processing and manufacturing Australia could be doing, but if we descend into a negative and sometimes xenophobic debate every time we see food being exported to China, then we are heading down a path that can only hurt, first, our farmers, but in the long term every other Australian.

Best wishes
Steve Whan
Check out our annual report NIC had a very productive year in 2018-19, we are a small organisation, but we punch well above our weight when it comes to getting our members views across to decision makers. 

The annual report is a great summary of the year and of the state of play.  Thanks, Joy, for all the work putting the report together and Tanya Howard from our member Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group, for doing the layout. 

Annual financial statements are available on request.   

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