News stories shine a light on the murky Murray-Darling debate
The Adelaide Advertiser recently carried a story about a recent United Nations Food and Agriculture report (UNFAO) which signalled that the following looming threats to the our Murray-Darling Basin: — Increased water scarcity — Loss of biodiversity and environmental services — Desertification — Reduced water availability — Shift in seasonal flows due to climate change The report went on to warn that the Murray-Darling Basin is one of the world’s key ‘food producing regions’ which is threatened by land and water degradation. Environmental collapse in the Murray-Darling Basin, if unchecked, is likely to pose a big threat to the future of food production. An ACF briefer released last week about food prices myths related to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan show evidence of assessments done by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that the food prices are most likely to change in response to natural disasters and global commodities prices in the international market. As much as 60% of the food grown in Australia is exported overseas, and supermarkets are more likely to shape domestic food prices than anything else. The Basin Communities Association (BCA) has been advocating most strongly and consistently against a national plan for the Murray-Darling on the grounds that it will drive food prices up and destroy regional towns and family farms. Sadly, the fact that no farmer will be forced to give their water-allocation away rarely gets mentioned. Their vociferous claims have so far made it hard for other voices and the real and more nuanced debate about the future of the Murray-Darling Basin to be heard. In a new twist to the story, an investigative piece in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the board of the BCA included heavy-weights such as Elders, Westpac and a Shepparton based regional newspaper magnate. The BCA is also significantly funded by the New South Wales Irrigators Council (NSWIC). A related story in The Saturday Age included a comment from one of Australia’s leading Agriculture experts: "there will always be enough water to produce domestic supply".
Is the BCA acting in the national interest or in the interest of a few big businesses?
The final plan will go through Parliament late next year. If the final plan fails to revise proposed volumes upwards from the current dismal 2750 billion litres – which has been severely criticised by the CSIRO review – all of the environmental threats listed above will not have been addressed. The final plan also needs to act on the clear and obvious economic assessments that water-buybacks have proven to be the most effective way of providing water to the environment. Failure to act according to the science and the economics would mean that the MDBA, the Australian Parliament and our Federal Government would have wasted $10 billion of Australian Taxpayers money to condemn the lifeblood of this dry continent and the future of food production to a slow death. The 2750 billion litres of additional water for a Murray-Darling is a compromise to our food security and our future. In twenty years time will we look back at 2012 and say "this is the year we got it wrong for the Murray-Darling"? We would certainly not hope so. It is about time to get it right with our Lifeblood.