MIA irrigators skeptical of expert group's call for Basin Plan halt

A group of Basin Plan experts have made a declaration echoing what some MIA irrigators have have  been saying for years – billions of dollars being spent on water recovery is not improving Murray-Darling river health

MIA irrigators have, however, questioned the experts’ motives and ultimate goal. 

Twelve senior water scientists and economists have signed a joint declaration calling for urgent action to save the Murray-Darling Basin. 

The experts have called for a stop to tax-payer funded water recovery, an independent audit of recovery and water use; and the establishment of an expert body to monitor the Water Act

Declaration signatory Quentin Grafton, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University, said: “$4 billion has been spent on subsidies for irrigation infrastructure by governments over the past decade yet we do not have adequate measures of what this does to stream flows.”

“Amazingly, despite allocating half a billion dollars in 2007 to upgrade water meters in the Basin, as much as 75% of all surface water diversions in the northern part of the Basin may not be metered. This makes no sense. Taxpayers, the Basin and its people deserve much better.”

Paul Pierotti, Griffith Business Chamber President, found some common group with the experts with whom he usually clashes. 

“It's rare that we agree with Professor Quinton Grafton but with the point of the Basin Plan being a environmental failure and monumental waist of money we completely agree”.

“Although it's overdue that these so-called experts stopped fluffing at the edges of The Basin Scam and admitted that until the mismanagement of [South Australia’s] Lower Lakes & Coorong estuary issues are addressed, no improvements will occur and upstream communities will continue to suffer,” Mr Pierotti said. 

Veteran farmer John Bonetti, though, says the experts need to give the Basin Plan more of a chance to succeed.     

“The Basin Plan is supposed to go until 2024. Last I checked it was still only 2018”. 

“I think they’re making a political argument, not a scientific or factual one”. 

“We need to step back and give it more time”. 

This sentiment was echoed by the Leeton-based Ricegrowers Association of Australia (RGA), and Murray Darling Basin Authority Chief Executive Phillip Glyde. 

“The Basin Plan still has seven years to run and environmental improvements are occurring despite the deliberate and negative narrative from those who will not rest until all productive water diversions cease,” the RGA said in a statement. 

Philip Glyde said, “The Basin Plan was neither expected nor intended to deliver immediate results.”  

“It is simply not possible to repair 100 years of damage to such a vast river system overnight—or even within five years.” 

The twelve expert, though, have stressed the amount wasted over recent years.

“Despite already spending more than $6 billion dollars in water recovery over the past decade, and with billions more still committed through irrigation on-farm and supply infrastructure, the scientists and economists who have signed this Declaration remain concerned that the proposed social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes are not being achieved,” Professor Sarah Wheeler, from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources, said. 

Representative body Southern Riverina Irrigators remain skeptical of the experts’ motives. 

“A cynic would say that they are seeking to secure work for themselves while disregarding the real work that is going on in the Basin to deliver the Basin Plan and environmental watering programs,” Chair of Southern Riverina Irrigators, Gabrielle Coupland said.