Wentworth Group report summary criticised

July 04, 2017

National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan said it was too early to tell if the plan would fail, as the Wentworth Group had suggested in its summary of a yet-to-be-released report.

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists’ push to deliver the full 3200Gl stated in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been criticised by the National Irrigators Council and Victorian Shadow Water Minister Peter Walsh.

National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan said it was too early to tell if the plan would fail, as the Wentworth Group had suggested in its summary of a yet-to-be-released report.

‘‘Well I think they are being premature on whether it will succeed or fail. Environmental outcomes will take years,’’ Mr Whan said.

‘‘They obviously have an agenda and are pushing a certain direction but measured decisions need to be made.’’

Victorian Shadow Water Minister Peter Walsh said the 450Gl of up-water could not be delivered, despite the Wentworth Group saying the plan could be delivered ‘‘on time and in full’’ if its recommendations were met.

‘‘There was no evidence to support the 450Gl when it was written into the plan after a secretive deal between Federal Labor and the South Australian Labor Government,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘The Liberal-Nationals’ consistent position has been that there’s no way to deliver this water if it causes socio-economic hardship on our basin communities in Victoria.’’

Mr Whan said the NIC did not disagree with all aspects of the group’s summary.

‘‘It is a positive that they acknowledge the socio-economic impacts on water buybacks. We strongly disagree with them about more buybacks,’’ he said.

In response to the Wentworth Group’s reference to ‘‘well-funded irrigator groups’’, Mr Whan said he was not sure where these groups were.

‘‘I’m looking around for them (well-funded irrigator groups),’’ he said.

‘‘We are funded by members and I would say our tenure is more vulnerable than some of those scientists. The comments are a bit silly.’’

Scientists fear plan will fail

There is no overall evidence that delivering the 450Gl of up-water will have negative socio-economic impacts on Murray-Darling Basin communities, according to a scientist group.

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists released a summary of its report on June 26, which urged politicians to start doing something.

‘‘Without substantial changes, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will fail,’’ the report said.

‘‘Thirteen billion dollars of taxpayers’ money will be spent, communities will be hurt, industries will face ongoing uncertainty and the river systems will continue to degrade.’’

Wentworth Group spokesman Jamie Pittock said despite there being some improvements in communities, evidence into overall improvement was non-existent.

‘‘There is no doubt there has been some improvements but there is no evidence as a whole,’’ he said.

‘‘The University of NSW study stated that bird numbers are declining and (other) studies have said native fish populations are not recovering.

‘‘(Overall) improvement looks dubious but there is some selected wetlands that have improved.

‘‘We are not seeing impacts basin-wide. Statistics are not showing that and the bureau (Australian Bureau of Statistics) is not saying that.’’

Mr Pittock said selected towns, such as Shepparton, had seen improvements but more needed to be done to help basin communities thrive.

‘‘In Shepparton, jobs in agriculture have improved by 13 per cent between 2006 and 2015 to 294.

‘‘With $6billion still to be spent, a large share of this should be used in regional development as currently only one per cent is allocated to this. This needs to be more to make sure we don’t lose towns in the basin.

‘‘Because of the well-funded irrigator groups, the plan is suffering.

‘‘Since 2012, the total value (delivered) has increased modestly, while the number of irrigation businesses in the basin has risen by two per cent.’’

When responding to criticism from parties, including the Murray-Darling Basin Authority itself, over the small timeframe the Wentworth Group has taken to come to its decision that the plan is doomed, Mr Pittock said with half the allocated $13million already exhausted, the public expected progress.

‘‘Yes it is early but they have spent $7billion of public money and the public are entitled to see progress. Recovery has trickled and it is now questionable that the target will be met. Australians are expecting improvement at this stage.’’

Mr Pittock said the Wentworth Group expected to release the full report by September this year.

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