Murray Darling Basin Plan ‘poses more question than it answers’

Plan creating 'refugees' - no flow to regions

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Former Colly Cotton and AACo boss David Farley stands on the banks of his beloved Murrumbidgee River, he says it is time for a rethink of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Former Colly Cotton and AACo boss David Farley stands on the banks of his beloved Murrumbidgee River, he says it is time for a rethink of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

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The regions have been stripped out of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, says David Farley.

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DAVID Farley reckons it’s time to review and refine the Murray Darling Basin Plan, because in the Riverina it is creating refugees, cast asunder by a lack of work and marooned holding devalued homes.

The former head of Colly Cotton and AACo is now managing an agricultural commodities book – Matrix Commodities – and is engaged in international agricultural consulting.

He lives a stone's throw from the Murrumbidgee River in Narrandera, the town in which he was born.

He lives a bit closer to his mother than the river.

Most evenings he makes his way down to Second Beach and takes a swim, pitching himself against the current, his efforts holding him stationary against the flow.

The river has been a constant in his life, as has Australian agriculture, predominantly the cotton industry.

Mr Farley has watched the Murray Darling Basin Plan roll out and believes it has brought to the surface more questions about his home country than it has answered.

We went the macro model and stripped out the regional areas. - David Farley

He thinks it is time Australia opened a conversation about its aspirations - what it wants to become.

"We need to think about whether we want an authentic, aesthetic or complimentary environment," he says.

"If we want 200,000 new immigrants a year, if we embrace growth aspirations then we must embrace a complimentary environment," he says.

And he believes if we choose either authentic – without dams, weirs and flood mitigation – or aesthetic, we must start depopulating areas, not least the coastal capitals.

A complimentary environment would continue with water management.

"Yet we can't use rivers as pipelines, considering evaporation and loss, it's a most inefficient system."

He believes at the moment, with the MDBP in the hands it is in, Australia is pursuing an aesthetic environment, that is pretty to look at and has absolutely no grounding in reality.

"Australia can't be Europe with green rivers and fields, we need to question our aspirations," he says.

"Agriculture is very different in Europe compared with Australia."

Some people are now almost embarrased to say 'we're farmers' because of the vitriol it attracts.

And it is, repeated cultivation is an option for weed control in Europe and a future without glyphosate demands adaption, but is not incomprehensible.

In Australia repeated cultivation puts precious topsoil at the risk of our harsh climate.

"What we don't need is a fireside chat about our aspirations, we need to have a real discussion about what we want in the future and then go about creating it," said Mr Farley.

The ramifications of taking water from regional communities is not appreciated in the cities, he said, and railing on social media about irrigation farmers, particularly those who choose to grow cotton with their water, is a clear indicator of that.

"Some people are now almost embarrased to say 'we're farmers' because of the vitriol it attracts," he said.

"Rural communities are being damaged, there is psychological damage, and depression is a side effect of that."

He said the MDBP's roll-on effects were not appreciated by the architects of the plan, nor those ensconsced in city life who believed the rivers were better for the Plan's implementation six years after it began.

"Look at the people of Deniliquin or Finley, all they have to sell is their labour for the day, their biggest assets are their homes - and we're not talking about mansions, they might have been worth $350,000 and now they're worth $200,000 or $180,000, because their homes have been devalued by the Plan.

Now you look at Glencore, you look at pension funds, you look at Ferrero Rocher, these are not champions of the community, in fact they're not even part of it.

"We're talking about working class Australian families," he said.

"The Murray Darling Basin Plan has created a class of refugee, one that is marooned in regional Australia, their homes have been devalued and they have no money or way of earning it, and they have limited skillsets that don’t necessarily satisfy modern society - and they're Australians."

Mr Farley said corporate agriculture had been his career, and he had watched large companies gravitate into a sphere that was once the domain of families, with their fortunes controlled by individuals.

"But now you look at Glencore, you look at pension funds, you look at Ferrero Rocher, these are not champions of the community, in fact they're not even part of it.

"There must be more stipulations for foreign ownership, at the moment we're not planning for the future.

"When the MDBP was formed, you didn't have an almond industry, you didn't have a walnut industry," he said, suggesting being able to adapt was key in an increasingly competitive, globalised economy.

He said there are two major events evolving now that will determine the future of regional Australia and government was getting them wrong: Inland Rail and the MDBP.

"One of the problems is that The Nationals are prepared to be subservient to the Liberal Party all the time," he said.

Mr Farley suggested the Murray Darling Basin's potential could be compared with California, the world's largest agricultural economy.

"In California the government declared water as the base of regional hope - it declared water districts and you couldn't trade outside of them - every region was responsible for its own management.

"We went the macro model and stripped out the regional areas," he said.

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