Adjournment debate – My adjournment is for the Minister for Water. The action I seek is that the minister stand up for Victorian irrigation farmers at the next ministerial council meeting of water ministers on Monday, 23 November 2020. There is a concerted effort by many to persuade governments to spend and build a bypass of the Barmah Choke to avoid the natural constraints that exist on the Murray River as it flows through the Barmah and Moira national parks. Demand below the Choke has grown considerably in recent years as a result of unsustainable development in huge plantings of almonds by foreign-owned companies. In addition to this, it is growing as a result of water that was previously used for irrigation above the Choke now being transferred downstream for use by the environment at various sites, including the lower lakes. The Barmah Choke bypass project should be given no credibility when it moves water to a hotter, drier climate, and it will ultimately lead to a market failure in many of those industries that are developing below the Choke.
The Goulburn-Murray irrigation district has been renowned for its diversity of production, particularly with dairy, horticulture and mixed farming, and the diversity has enabled extraordinary productivity, letting us claim to be the food bowl of Victoria. It has a strong, viable future and with completion of the $2 billion Connections Project, it now has a world-class delivery system, delivering half the water it used to, which generates a reduced but stable level of dairy production as well as increased fresh fruit and all other forms of viable cropping and grazing industries that make flexible, strategic use of the available irrigation water.
Minister, we have fought long and hard against buybacks and the current federal water minister has promised that there will be no more buybacks. However, he is not prepared to legislate this and, given that it is policy only, we should bear in mind that it was only over 12 months ago that the then federal water minister, David Littleproud, was threatening water buybacks from our farmers in circumstances where the delivery was not reached by 2024. There has been no leadership from the federal government in seeking solutions and it has now breached the agreement reached in the December 2018 ministerial council meeting of water ministers, where firm guidelines were put in place to ensure that water recovery would not have any negative socio-economic impacts on our farmers. In June this year water ministers reconfirmed that commitment.
Just as recently as last week there were six on-farm projects advertised by the commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and since September 2019 there have been 12. All these projects take water from our farmers. It is a breach of the agreement, and I ask the Victorian water minister to call the federal minister and his department to account at the forthcoming ministerial council of water ministers.