A Deniliquin farmer with extensive knowledge of local river systems has explained “there is a better way to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan” to a Senate hearing.
Louise Burge, representing Murray Regional Strategy Group (MRSG), addressed the Canberra hearing into the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023, appearing alongside representatives from the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID) Water Leadership Group.
A key concern, echoed by numerous organisations from across southern NSW and northern Victoria, was the government’s proposal to reintroduce water buybacks to acquire another 450GL of water under the Basin Plan. This is despite indisputable evidence of the social and economic damage this would cause, and any further impacts would be in addition to those already recognised in the initial 2,750GL recovery target currently being implemented.
Mrs Burge told senators there are alternative approaches to buybacks that would save the government billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and these should be looked at right across the Basin to enhance environmental outcomes.
“There are alternative investment options that deliver far greater and more sustainable environmental outcomes than the original architects of the Basin Plan’s approach of ‘just add water’. Sadly, politics doesn’t allow common sense to prevail. MRSG has also identified a range of project options that could achieve environmental outcomes while at the same time protecting staple food production, jobs, rural communities, economic activity and export earnings,” Mrs Burge said.
Another major concern among rural communities which Mrs Burge highlighted was the elevated flood risk if even more water is recovered from the Southern Basin and stored in upper Murray and Goulburn River system dams.
“Governments and water authorities should have learned from flood events in 2016 and 2022, yet we are going down a path that will increase the flooding risk and lead to massive agricultural production and infrastructure losses, potentially in the billions of dollars,” Mrs Burge said.
She also explained to the hearing that water buybacks in the Southern Basin cannot replace flows in the Darling/Baaka River, which has the most pressing environmental problems.
Mrs Burge told the Senate Hearing: “Continually flooding upstream communities in the Southern Basin, which will occur if this Bill is passed, will not provide long-term ecological solutions in the Northern Basin. All it will do is meet some of the government’s political problems in South Australia.”
MRSG and a range of other groups have consistently advised governments that excessive flows are damaging the Murray and Edward Rivers and this will only be exacerbated if water recovery is from the Southern Basin, instead of placing a greater focus on resolving issues with the Darling River.
Mrs Burge also supplied additional written information on the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth in South Australia. This provided further evidence why even catastrophic floods in the Murray River still could not resolve sedimentation in the Murray Mouth, nor are they a solution for the Southern Coorong.
“Australia could save billions of dollars if governments took the politics out of decisions, delivered localised projects in South Australia at the end of the system and invested in solutions in the Darling River system,” Mrs Burge said.
She emphasised the MRSG position that the proposed Bill would not address current errors in the design and implementation of the Basin Plan, and if the focus for the additional 450GL of water recovery was also on the Southern Basin it would only further cement existing mistakes.
The Murray Regional Strategy Group was formed in 2018 to provide a united approach to water policy issues in the NSW Murray region. It has broad representation, and includes farming, community and industry organisations.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 9 November 2023.