Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, has told parliament of massive social upheaval caused by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Ms Ley made the comments while speaking about the Water Amendment bill, which would see 23 changes made to the controversial Water Act.
“We need to acknowledge what it has done and we need to acknowledge the changes that have been wrought upon families and their farms and of course their finances,” Ms Ley said.
“We have to acknowledge that it has not been easy.
“When we are in a position to make some changes to the plan, in consultation with the authority or through the authority—because it is, after all, an independent body that manages these things—then we should stand ready, and we do, to support that.”
The federal government has accepted full, or in part, all 23 recommended changes to the Water Act, which were considered an important start on the process of making the necessary adjustments to the basin plan.
“These amendments were recommended as part of the independent review into the Water Act, conducted by an independent panel of experts in irrigated agriculture, business regulation, law and science,” Ms Ley said.
“I know that representatives from our local areas were invited to be part of that consultation process and am pleased that Murray Irrigation, Ricegrowers Association, Southern Riverina Irrigators and Coleambally Irrigation were some of those groups asked to contribute to last year’s discussion.”
In response to the review, the government had committed to work with industry as a means of identifying ways to improve the transparency of the water market and the quality and availability of information available for water users.
The bill legislates the requirement for five-yearly reviews into the social and economic impacts of the basin plan from 2020.
However, Ms Ley said the amendment should be extended to include more frequent reviews of the environmental water recovery, one of the issues discussed when MDBA chief Phillip Glyde toured the Southern Riverina recently.
If passed, the Water Act amendment would also provide flexibility for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) to use the proceeds of water allocation trade on complementary environmental works and measures. Under existing arrangements the CEWH is only able to spend proceeds of trade on purchasing water.
Ms Ley said she welcomed the amendments as a first step but believed more needed to be done, particularly with regard to enabling water to be traded more easily between the environment and agriculture.
“Our communities need to have their voices heard and they need to be understood,” Ms Ley said.
“This includes understanding the cumulative effects of so much productive water being removed from the vital infrastructure of our farming operations.
“There are adjustments that we know can be made to provide further flexibility for the CEWH when it comes to water trading, particularly when general security allocations are as low as they have been this season,” Ms Ley said.