THOSE with concerns around job losses in the northern Murray-Darling Basin have a fair point.
The review has identified some potentially large job losses for a number of communities, all of which are already suffering in some way from a combination of previous cuts to water availability, drought or other factors.
For these northern communities, further job losses will add to an already cumulative problem. However, the review appears to look at the job losses as isolated incidents and fails to link them to longer term, flow-on effects.
Government is generally good at tunnel vision in these sorts of situations.
For instance, in some of the smaller towns in the Northern Basin, one or two families lost due to water cuts could mean the loss of a teacher, or even the closure of a local school.
That’s more jobs lost and an extra cost incurred on local families.
This is how the cuts become cumulative and how community decline accelerates an issue northern irrigation communities are clearly aware of.
In towns such as Wee Waa, where bore supplies have been critical in drier years, but are liable to be cut back in the plan’s roll-out, the community’s resilience throughout dry times and immediately following will also be reduced.
Holding onto employees in dry periods is important for recovery when the season breaks, and is again critical to that cumulative affect of longer term job losses.
The 2011 census had the unemployment rate in Wee Waa at 7.9 per cent, so any further cuts will add to an already hefty community burden.
The review also highlighted significant increases in stocking rates to be realised as water returns to the system and once again has a bigger contribution to floodplain grazing.
While this is beneficial, those gains need to be weighed against the employment losses from irrigation.
The way in which the community is transitioned also needs to be considered, as gains from increased grazing alone don’t justify the irrigation job losses and structural changes the cuts would bring.
Meanwhile, infrastructure improvements must be introduced in a way that doesn’t end up costing the community, such as was seen in the south where high electricity costs negated water savings.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has some good insights in this review around the challenges ahead, but it needs to see them as issues to be resolved, not necessary collateral.