The Hon. Nicola Centofanti, Shadow Minister for Water Resources and the River Murray (SA), Media Release, 5 February 2024
The government agency tasked with looking after the interests of the state’s primary production has undertaken no modelling to understand the possible impact mass water buybacks will have on the South Australian agricultural production, it can be revealed.
The alarming revelations came from evidence presented to a Select Committee by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) – and echoes the worrying sentiment of the Department of Environment and Water in September last year.
Shadow Minister for Water Resources and the River Murray, Dr Nicola Centofanti, said she is appalled with the Malinauskas Labor Government’s “talk first, think later” approach towards the River Murray.
The latest development coincides with the recent release of the Federal Labor Government’s water and environment agency’s Draft Framework for delivering the 450 GL of environmental water in the Basin.
The report foreshadows social and economic impacts from water buybacks and states that “some Basin communities may experience negative social and economic impacts from voluntary water purchase”.
This is despite the Labor Water Minister Susan Close – and Labor Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven – and Sydney-sider River Murray Commissioner Richard Beasley, all arguing against the view that there are negative impacts to water buybacks.
“Until now Water Mininster Susan Close has brushed aside questions about the impact of mass buybacks on regional water communities saying, for example ‘there is no evidence that voluntary buybacks cause socio-economic destruction’,” said Dr Centofanti.
“Clare Scriven has also stated that she is ‘not aware of any evidence to suggest that buybacks would have a negative impact’ and, incredibly, that she does not believe water buybacks would even lead to a loss of production.
Data requested of PIRSA by the Opposition has revealed the extent of impact on agricultural production that may arise from mass buybacks.
As an example, for citrus, one gigalitre of water permanently returned would result in 100 hectares of production area lost. For winegrapes that number surpasses 120 hectares.
Dr Centofanti said these figures solidify the impact mass buybacks will have on regional South Australia.
“Assuming 10 per cent of the 450 GL was to come from South Australia, this would result in the permanent loss of 4,500 hectares of citrus and 5,500 of winegrapes,” Dr Centofanti said.
“Susan Close and Clare Scriven are now starting to look naïve and uneducated while those around them begin to wake up to the devastating impacts of mass water buybacks.”
PIRSA has admitted that it is now working with DEW to undertake a “feasibility assessment” and “business case” on buyback impacts.
It has also just been revealed that the Federal Labor Government’s most recent buyback round will target irrigators in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, which Dr Centofanti fears will mean South Australia may be disproportionately impacted by “our own Water Minister’s lazy approach to water recovery.”
“Sadly, when it comes to Susan Close, the River Murray is about ‘Team Labor’ rather than ‘Team SA’, and we are starting to get a real feel for how bad this approach is for SA,” Dr Centofanti said.
“Peter Malinauskas must explain to regional South Australia why he has allowed his Ministers to blindly follow their Federal Colleagues and sign up to an agreement without doing the homework to ensure these mass buybacks will not have a detrimental effect on regional communities along the River Murray in our state.”