Member for Shepparton District Suzanna Sheed has called on the state government to protect northern Victorian irrigators from potential future untargeted water buybacks by the federal government.
Ms Sheed said untargeted water buybacks hurt the rural and regional communities that rely on irrigated agriculture.
She also called on the state government to commission an independent study into the socio-economic impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan to date.
“The Commonwealth Government’s Agricultural White Paper commits to developing irrigation in northern Australia and funding dams,” she said.
“At the same time the Commonwealth is drying off Victorian irrigation areas that have productive land, existing modernised irrigation infrastructure and a capable food processing industry.
“This makes no sense.”
Ms Sheed said the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District already had a $1.8 billion irrigation modernisation project underway to save water and strengthen agricultural productivity in the region.
She said the region had sacrificed over one third of its water from productive use because of the Basin Plan, with further uncertainty surrounding the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing an additional 450 GL of water for the environment.
“This could further reduce irrigation deliveries in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District by, in the order of, 200 GL. This would be a major blow for the regions jobs and productivity,” she said.
“At a time when we are being told that there are great opportunities for growing our food exports this is being put at risk because further water could be taken from productive use.”
Ms Sheed said there was a great deal of concern in the Goulburn Murray about the adverse socio-economic impact water reform has had.
“Indeed a meeting of over 1000 people at Barham on the Murray River last month provided an opportunity for those in attendance to articulate their particular concerns in relation to losses of population, services, jobs and productivity in their local communities,” she said.
“Given that the Commonwealth has said it will not take more water where an adverse socio-economic outcome will occur it is essential that Victoria gathers the necessary evidence and information now to fight off any further incursions.”
The Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water responded to Ms Sheed’s call for protection for northern irrigators in question time.
The Minister said she had asked the Commonwealth to provide assurances that they would not buy any more water in northern Victoria.
“We believe that through the system of modernisation, through efficiencies and through irrigation upgrades, we can deliver the savings that we promised and committed to under the Murray Darling Basin Plan,” she said.
“I reemphasize that Victoria has done the heavy lifting in this case. We do need New South Wales to come on board and we do need the Commonwealth to come on board, and that is the message that we will be delivering when we attend the Murray-Darling Basin meeting on 14 August.”
Ms Sheed also sought assurances from the Minister that the state government will work with stakeholders in northern Victoria to ensure they are not adversely affected by any potential demands of further water savings out of Victoria.
“After our 14 August meeting I will be in a position to come and talk further with the local community about where we are heading and what the issues are,” the Minister said.
“I think we will need to work very closely with the local community so we can continue to get that balance right around the healthy environment for our Murray River and also the irrigators in the area.”