Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Group calls for new ads to provide Basin balance

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Murray Regional Strategy Group, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper

Ongoing community outrage at misleading Australian Government advertisements has led to official complaints by a leading rural organisation.

The Murray Regional Strategy Group (MRSG) has submitted formal complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. 

Its complaint relates to Murray-Darling Basin Plan advertisements, amid numerous claims they are inaccurate and misleading.

MRSG has asked for the following actions:

  • The Australian Government be ordered to withdraw the advertisement in question and apologise for misleading the Australian people.
  • The Australian Government be ordered to spend equal or greater funds on an advertising campaign which highlights community concerns with Basin Plan implementation, as highlighted, and ordered that this campaign to be coordinated in conjunction with, and with advice from, Murray Regional Strategy Group.

“The advertising campaign is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money and I think the public deserves to know who authorised it,” said MRSG Chair Geoff Moar.

“We are concerned at the inaccuracies and emotive language used in the advertisement, which appears to be a government attempt to politicise a serious issue for regional communities, the environment and farm prosperity.”

The advertisement claims the Basin Plan will “pump life into our farms,” but Mr Moar says the reality is “in stark contrast.”

“While the Basin Plan is designed to improve our environment, and has in fact had some success in this regard, this has been done at the expense of farmers and farming communities, with ongoing potential to also increase food prices at supermarkets across the nation. 

“If the Australian Government is spending taxpayer dollars to promote one of its signature programs, in this case the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we believe it has a responsibility to provide all the facts, not just limited facts that suit a political narrative, as has occurred,” Mr Moar said.

He said the advertisement also claims rivers could run dry during the next drought. 

“Again, this is very selective use of an emotive phrase. The major river system in the Murray-Darling Basin is the Murray River and its tributaries. Even during the Millennium Drought this river did not run dry. Governments have now acquired 4,623GL of water entitlements, more than 80 per cent from the Southern Basin which is held in upstream storages.

“This is sufficient water to ensure that our major rivers will not run dry, even in the worst possible drought. In fact, the greater risk is more catastrophic flooding, as we saw in 2016 and 2022. When too much water is stored in dams, it reduces the ability for flood mitigation and increases spills when there is an unexpected rain event. 

“If the Australian Government is providing the community with information about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, it should be highlighting issues such as flood risk, not making exaggerated and/or false claims associated with drought risk.”

Mr Moar said the only conclusion his organisation can draw from the reasoning behind the advertising campaign is that it is a brazen attempt by the Australian Government to win environmental votes or sympathy through misleading propaganda, adding “this is not the standard of behaviour the community expects from our national leaders.”

He scoffed at claims in the advertisement “if we don’t act it could… affect the drinking water of more than three million Australians.” 

“During the Millennium Drought, the main issue with water supply was in Adelaide, and this has been mitigated with construction of a desalination plant, at huge taxpayer expense. While there remains concern around water supply in some smaller communities on the Darling/Baaka River system, these can only be resolved by increasing flows in the Darling/Baaka through water recovered from the Northern Basin, not the Southern Basin as proposed under the Basin Plan.”

Mr Moar said this was further selective use of emotive language that does not accurately reflect implementation of the Basin Plan. 

“Conveniently, the advertisement fails to differentiate between river systems, which adds to its misleading narrative. The major environmental problems are in the Darling/Baaka River, and buying water from the Murray will not help the Darling, but this does not get highlighted by either the Australian Government or its bureaucracy,” Mr Moar said.

He said MRSG will eagerly await responses from the three organisations to which the complaint has been lodged, and looks forward to working with the Australian Government on an advertising campaign that contains a more accurate narrative.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 21 March 2024

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 21 March 2024.

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