Throughout history the Murray-Darling Basin has been mismanaged and my home state of South Australia has suffered the most as a result.
I was elected to the Senate on a promise to advocate for South Australian irrigators. Since I entered the Senate in July 2008, I have introduced two Private Senator’s Bills and have spoken many times on the need for reform in the Basin.
I also negotiated $900 million in brought-forward funding for the Basin during the Stimulus Package debate in 2009.
But we are still a long way off a establishing a long-term plan to manage the Murray-Darling system.
Even though there have been heavier than usual rainfalls in recent years, the Basin is still recovering from a long period of drought. The biggest problem in the Basin is over allocation, where cities, towns and individuals draw more water from the rivers than the Basin can sustain.
Eastern seaboard states have over-allocated finite water resources robbing down-stream farmers and the environment. Great river systems die from the mouth up and that is why it is essential for the health of the rivers that there are enough environmental flows to keep the lower lakes open to the sea.
The Draft Basin Plan
In response to these problems, the Commonwealth Government established the Murray Darling Basin Authority to create a new management plan for the Basin. The Plan aims to create a balance between critical needs water (for cities, towns and irrigation) and environmental allocations (the amount of water that needs to stay in the Basin for its environmental health).
My main concern with the current debate, and something that is not being addressed by the Federal Government, is the issue of equity. For decades South Australian farmers have spent significant amounts of their own money making their farms the most water efficient in the country, because they were at the end of the river system and water was limited. The graphs below give you a fairly good indication of how important irrigated agriculture is to South Australia, in both social and economic terms.
Farmers to our north and east didn’t have to invest in these efficiencies. But now the Federal Government is providing these Eastern State farmers with the money to make their farms water efficient. I believe this is fundamentally unfair and that the Government should compensate the early adopters in South Australia for the money they have spent to ensure interstate farmers do not get a competitive advantage. With one river system we need one set of rules and one set of standards.
I welcome any feedback you may have about the Draft Basin Plan, which was released for comment at the end of November 2011. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts.