Waters muddied in attempt for answers

Four Corners 'Cash splash' raises industry's ire


Opinion
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The Basin Plan, which communities have begrudgingly been drawn into, was criticised without the full context of how and why water has been bought back, infrastructure has been built, or why there has been a swing to certain crops.

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Agriculture and irrigation bodies responded fiercely to Monday night's Four Corners episode "Cash splash".

The Basin Plan, which communities have begrudgingly been drawn into, was criticised without the full context of how and why water has been bought back, infrastructure has been built, or why there has been a swing to certain crops.

Two key claims on which the program focused were that less water was going to the environment and tax dollars were misused.

It used examples of farmers who had sold water back to the government and explained how these farmers used the resulting proceeds in on-farm water efficiency infrastructure projects and then later purchased new water at cheaper rates.

It would be inappropriate that the demise of a town that would die without water should be the decision of an academic who just wants to save some money.

However, it didn't explain the context of that process, how it came about, or the overall volumes returned for the environment.

It also didn't look at the effect on local economies, and in criticising the fact those farmers had later bought more water to grow their businesses, didn't explain that these people still had land assets that would decline in value without water, nor anything about how the water market worked, or how else those farmers would make a living.

Of those people interviewed, Quentin Grafton, Professor, co-chair of Australian National University Water Initiative, chairholder of UNESCO chair in water economics and transboundary water governance, and Prof of water economics Sarah Wheeler, University of Adelaide, said direct water buy-backs would be more cost effective than infrastructure grants and the money saved could go into social transition programs.

But what social transition has ever worked in rural Australia? Just look at the fall-out that remains from the creation of the river red gum parks in southern NSW, Toorale near Bourke, or the closing down of timber harvesting in the Pilliga.

We're still awaiting the promised flocks of tourists. A healthy river and surrounding communities is what will draw them, but right now both are struggling.

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It would be inappropriate that the demise of a town that would die without water should be the decision of an academic who just wants to save some money.

There may be discontent among the irrigation communities about the Murray Darling Basin Plan, but it is for reasons not well understood by those outside those communities, as was emphasised on Monday night.

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