A move by federal Labor to shift the goalposts on water allocations for irrigators could have a devastating impact on communities across the MIA.
The federal opposition spokesman for water, Tony Burke, is seeking to add a clause to the basin plan that would mean 450GL of up water can only be recovered while there will be neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes for irrigation communities.
The move is an attempt to guarantee water makes it to the lower lakes and has sent irrigators into a spin, and left the likes of the Farmers’ Federation and Member for Farrer Sussan Ley in shock.
In developing the basin plan, a rare showing of bipartisan support from all governments came thanks to a guarantee regional centres would not suffer as a result of diverting water for environmental flows.
Mr Burke’s amendment all-but tears up the deal where communities and their socio economic impacts are taken into consideration when letting water flow downstream and out to sea.
He’s making it a black and white contest where the irrigators lose every time and the National Farmers’ Federation is warning the shadow MP his intentions are misguided.
Vice president and water taskforce chairman Les Gordon said as the minister who negotiated the basin plan, Mr Burke knows only too well he’s bending the rules.
The fallout also sees Ms Ley continue to use her now limited exposure to talk water, saying she ‘couldn't believe her ears’ in reply to Mr Burke.
“(It’s) political grandstanding,” Ms Ley said. “It shows that the person who signed this plan into law has always seen it as a contest between the environment and irrigators, instead of a partnership in the interests of communities and the nation as a whole.”
She also questioned whether Mr Burke has the blessing of water ministers in NSW and Victoria.
Tearing up a deal years in the making will destroy an already tedious balancing act to keep the basin system sustainable for all.
If Mr Burke is so eager to make this happen, perhaps he should introduce some legislation supporting irrigators helping them to survive on less water. Instead, he’s pulling the rug out from underneath them.
It seems his recent track record on sustainable basin ideas means we’re more likely to see Mr Burke doing rain dances on the Parliament House lawns than batting for the irrigators.