WITH the stroke of a pen and a handshake, the future of irrigation in Griffith was changed forever.
After years of negotiations, campaigns and fiery protests within the local community, the NSW government yesterday signed on to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – a move that will hold significant ramifications for irrigators in the Murrumbidgee Valley.
More than a year after the plan was signed into law by former water minister Tony Burke and six years since it was initiated, NSW has finally relented and signed the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), allowing millions of dollars of infrastructure funding to be unlocked.
The prime minister’s office said a commitment to cap water purchases at 1500GL and prioritising water infrastructure programs were key components in bringing the final two states – NSW and Queensland – on board.
Premier Barry O’Farrell has also rolled over on his former demand that the Commonwealth agree to a 3 per cent cap on irrigation entitlements buybacks, per valley, per decade.
While the deal is expected to unlock $80 million in infrastructure funding for the state across the next eight years, the head of Murrumbidgee Food and Fibre Association, Debbie Buller, questioned why now.
“There is no upside or downside for irrigators,” Mrs Buller said.
“It is, however, encouraging that there is recognition there needs to be future significant investment in the adequacy of water storage and water delivery infrastructure.
“We’re all hopeful this means there will be some sensible strategies for water storage – that is definitely something irrigators hope the funding would be spent on, as well as addressing problems with inadequate infrastructure.”
Griffith Business Chamber’s Paul Pierotti said the deal was “very good news”.
“The state government has been holding firm – they would not agree to what was previously proposed by Tony Burke,” Mr Pierotti said.
“This is the least-worst option, at least we’ve staved off quite an aggressive attack on irrigation communities.
“A lot of uncertainty that was created by the government has now been allayed – people can take a deep breath.”
Federal member for Riverina Michael McCormack – who notoriously crossed the floor over the issue – was also pleased with the outcome.
“When the commitment to cap buybacks at 1500gigalitres came, those were the things NSW was holding out for,” Mr McCormack said.
“This has been achieved by a bit of common sense.
“We’re never going to have a perfect water plan, I acknowledge that.
“We’ve fought so hard for this and I’m pleased we’ve come this far.”
Mr McCormack said the government could now start rolling out plans for improved water infrastructure, including water storage and dams.
“These are good outcomes, these are the outcomes irrigators fought for,” he said.
Deputy premier Andrew Stoner said the NSW government drove a hard bargain to protect the interests of the state’s farmers and irrigators.
“The NSW Government has always maintained that in managing and securing water for the Basin infrastructure projects should be prioritised over water buybacks,” Mr Stoner said.
“I’m especially pleased at the funding that has been provided to boost water infrastructure in NSW, which includes significant projects at the Menindee Lakes and in the Nimmie Caira area of the lower Murrumbidgee Valley.”