Victorian and NSW riverine landholders and farmers recently found themselves yet again dragged through the mud — this time in the broadsheet pages of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald — by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, an environmental activist group.
For these landholders and farmers, the memory of record floods in September 2016 are incredibly recent and raw. A fact the Fairfax reporter failed to mention in her report and, quite possibly, of which she was completely unaware.
While the article painted the Wentworth Group as responsible independent advocates, ‘‘recalcitrant landholders’’ were the environmental vandals standing in the way of implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Nothing could be more offensive and untrue.
Basin communities are living through the implementation of the basin plan — water recovery, restructuring of regional economies, growing farm sizes, shrinking populations.
The past five years, tacked on the back of the millennium drought and negotiation of the basin plan, have been tough for irrigators and irrigation-dependent communities.
To date, more than 2000Gl of water has been recovered towards the 2750Gl basin plan target. This water is no longer put towards agricultural production, but delivered to rivers and wetlands for the benefit of the environment.
The Wentworth Group opposes the 2750Gl target. They even opposed a proposed 3200Gl target. The Wentworth Group argued that between 3856Gl and 6983Gl should be recovered from agriculture for the environment.
Such a volume would have destroyed our basin communities.
The Wentworth Group are good at suggesting all farmers and politicians who don’t subscribe to their point of view are environmental vandals. This is simply not true. I care deeply about the health of our rivers but I also understand the need to balance this with the needs of our rural communities who rely on the river for their health and livelihoods, and the needs of our farming industries.
The Fairfax article referred to ‘‘recalcitrant landholders’’ who were preventing implementation of a constraints management strategy to allow ‘‘minor managed flooding’’.
That all sounds very innocent to the reader sitting in St Kilda or Brunswick.
In truth, what is involved is the simultaneous controlled flooding of thousands of properties along the banks of the Goulburn, Murray, Edwards and Wakool rivers. Crops and pastures destroyed, fences damaged, access cut off.
The Wentworth Group would have you believe that this land never floods. But, since 2010 the Southern Murray Darling Basin has experienced a number of natural flood events, resulting in significant over-bank flows.
The most recent of these broke records. The September 2016 flood filled the Barmah Forest and sent thousands of gigalitres down the Murray River into the Lower Lakes. At the same time these floods caused significant destruction for landholders who graze and crop our river valleys.
These farmers are aware of the risks associated with farming this land. They watch dam levels, river heights and rain forecasts closely, ready to pull up pumps and move stock to higher ground if there is a risk of flood.
In exchange for this risk these farmers reap the rewards of alluvial soils. Such is the nature of floodplain farming.
What these landholders are not prepared to accept is the planned and orchestrated inundation of their productive land without appropriate compensation and adoption of liability by the Commonwealth.
In my new responsibility as Shadow Minister for Water in Victoria I’ll approach basin plan issues in a balanced manner, but I won’t sit idly by while our irrigators and farmers get rubbished in the metropolitan media.