Sell the farm, sell the water: What next after the Murray-Darling Basin Plan fall-out?

MENTION the Murray-Darling Basin Plan around the traps and it had the ability to instantly instil fear.

Initially irrigators in the Riverina and Murray were concerned about their livelihoods and some have sold the farm or water licences and walked away from agriculture completely.

This week Labor's vote played a key role in disallowing the federal government from cutting by 70 billion litres the target amount of water that irrigators must return to the environment in the northern basin.


But what does the disallowance motion really mean? Does it effectively kill off any future for the long-running plan?

Water trade is now on the cards in the same way that you can buy and sell sheep and cattle, or participate in the stock market. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, but regulation is needed. It’s a platform to buy and sell and opens up the commodity to be available to the highest bidder. However, what happens when the water is sold off to overseas players in the same way we are seeing foreign investment in the rural real estate space?

It has to be asked how many decisions in this industry have been made in good faith, based on the premise of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan actually coming to fruition?

The plan is now in tatters after the NSW government effectively walked away from it and Victoria is threatening to do the same. 

The NSW government has said it was "untenable" for the state to remain in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“Under my stewardship (NSW) will now start the process of withdrawing ourselves from the plan,” said Water Minister Niall Blair.

But what does this mean? The plan will not work without unity from the states. And how will it play out for the landholders, scientists and communities who have worked on the plan in good faith for more than a decade. 

To cope with environmental flows it was known and accepted that the infrastructure had to be up to scratch.

Here in the Riverina there are landholders who have river country who have worn the brunt of “man-made” floods.

Releasing huge volumes of water in the name of environmental flows has caused damage along the banks of the Murrumbidgee and some landholders around Wagga and Collingullie have experienced fence and crop losses. 

When the political system boils over like it has this week and decisions can be made with the stroke of a pen, it is cold comfort for those who have stuck by agriculture, worn the burden of damage, and made improvements that would ultimately support the premise of environmental flows. 

FUTURE IN THE BALANCE: Irrigators in the Riverina are closely watching the fall-out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

FUTURE IN THE BALANCE: Irrigators in the Riverina are closely watching the fall-out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.