Moree community voices concerns over Murray-Darling Basin Plan during Royal Commission public consultation

The Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission has heard of the social and economic impacts the taking of environmental water has had on Moree, as well as the community’s concerns with compliance and lack of rainfall at one of their many public consultations into the Basin Plan’s effectiveness.

Senior Counsel Assisting Richard Beasley SC and commission staff were in Moree on Thursday, May 17 to listen to the community’s concerns and hear their views on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in an effort to determine whether the plan is lawful and meeting its objectives.

“It’s a human voice that reinforces things you’re recommending; that water for the environment comes at a cost and that there has been a price the community has paid in terms of loss of jobs and businesses,” Mr Beasley said of the feedback they’ve received.

“If there is more water to be recovered, [Gwydir irrigators] don’t feel it can come from here. The feeling in this room is that there may well be people doing the wrong thing but it’s not from here and people shouldn’t be blaming us for that.

“[The consultations] helps paint an overall story for us about what local members of the community’s view has been on the impacts of the basin plan and the way it should be implemented.

“The overall story is that buybacks were terrible and how they’ve had an impact on the social fabric and economies of communities.

“Most places we’ve gone to feel enough’s been done and there should be a pause to see what the environmental improvements are, if any. They don’t want to see anymore buybacks of water.”

Issues flagged in Moree included the effect additional water take would have on ground water, why more dams aren’t being built and a lack of rainfall which irrigators said is the underlining reason there’s no water running down the Murray-Darling system.

“This year we’ve had 18 per cent [of our yearly rainfall] and people wonder why there isn’t any water further down. It’s because it hasn’t rained,” Gwydir irrigator Jim Cush said.

“In our northern side of things where we grow cotton - the point is that we grow something that we can get the most economic gain out of. When it doesn’t rain, we don’t produce.”

The biggest theme to come out of the Moree consultation was the frustration Gwydir irrigators feel at doing the right thing, but still being tainted by the same brush as the minority in other river systems – such as the unregulated Barwon-Darling – who are not complying with water regulations.

“It’s completely different in the Darling and Barwon-Darling to here,” Gwydir irrigator Mark Winter said.

“Here everyone’s got a meter. We put our meter reading in and that has to tally up when the meter readers come around. We’re very well controlled.

“It’s a different system altogether out there.”

“Sure there is compliance issues out there, but in this regulated system here I think it’s been very complaint at all times,” Mr Cush added.

“I’d like you to put up a tick standing up for the Gwydir Valley to say we’re good. We’d love to have some asterisk or a tick to say there’s no problem over there [in the Gwydir].”

In addition to the public consultation, the Royal Commission also met with Moree’s mayor Katrina Humphries and visited a number of water users on-farm to see first hand the impacts the Basin Plan has had.

The Moree visit was one of a number of community consultations the Royal Commission is having with communities across the Basin.

The inquiry will begin public hearings in June which are expected to finish by September. The Royal Commission is required to finalise its report to the South Australian Government by February 1, 2019.

The Commission has recently released Issues Paper 2 for discussion and is seeking submissions on the paper by June 1. For updates on the Commission and to see the Terms of Reference and both issues papers go to its website at www.mdbrc.sa.gov.au 

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