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Murray Darling Basin television campaign uproar – MDB ads ‘disgraceful’

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Independent Member for Murray, Helen Dalton, has called on the federal government to scrap its Murray Darling Basin advertising campaign, labelling it “dishonest and disgraceful.”

“These ads, which have been airing on commercial TV networks for a number of weeks, falsely portray NSW farming families as environmental vandals,” Ms Dalton said.

“The ads must be taken off-air immediately.”

“These ads blame NSW farming families for the state of the rivers, when water mismanagement by the federal government is responsible for the shocking state of our system,” Ms Dalton said.

The Member for Murray described the campaign as ‘multi-million dollar’ and ‘taxpayer funded.’

“These ads are being paid for by taxpayers. So, NSW farming families are actually paying for ads that vilify themselves and their loved ones.”

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

The complaint claims the ads are inaccurate and misleading.

“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.

Despite the criticism, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water said the campaign’s aim is to create greater understanding of the Murray–Darling Basin’s significance to Australia. 

“It also aims to create understanding of the threats the river system faces and what the Basin Plan will do to deliver positive outcomes for the environment and communities,” a departmental spokesperson said.

“The campaign has been developed in compliance with the Australian Government Guidelines on Information and Advertising Campaigns by non-corporate Commonwealth entities, administered by the Department of Finance.”

The department said “Historically too much water has been taken from the Basin. The Basin Plan is bringing water use back to sustainable levels through the recovery of 3200GL of water for the environment. 2142GL has been recovered to date and more time and more funding is needed to fully implement the plan.”

Ms Dalton also called for NSW Premier Chris Minns to defend NSW farmers from what she labelled ‘attacks by the federal government.’

“Premier Minns is siding with federal Labor while regional farming families are being falsely vilified. This is a disgraceful situation,” Ms Dalton said.

“In State Parliament the Premier said that he would be happy to see the ad, implying he hadn’t seen it. It’s been on TV for weeks and I sent a copy of the ad to his staff.

“So, he is either out of touch, or he needs better staff,” Ms Dalton said.

The Riverine Grazier 10 April 2024

This article appeared in The Riverine Grazier, 10 April 2024.

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