$22 Billion Agri-Crisis: Murray Darling Basin Plan Threatens Food Production

Food and fibre production worth more than $22 billion per year is now at great risk following changes to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which were rushed through Parliament last week. 

It’s been nothing less than a return to the bad old days early in the development of the Basin Plan under the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, when irrigators and river communities were facing savage reductions in the water they could use to grow 40% of Australia’s food and fibre. 

After already giving up more than 2000 gigalitres per year of water to the Plan—the equivalent of more than four Sydney Harbours—irrigators and their communities are about to be asked to give up another 700 gigalitres through buybacks. 

Buybacks have already devastated communities in the Basin, from Dirranbandi to Shepparton to Waikerie and everywhere in between. Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts have visited communities across the Basin and seen this devastation for themselves; there is no denying it. 

Desperate irrigators have left the system, leaving those who have remained to pick up the water delivery costs, which do not fall with the loss of farmers and their properties. The loss of food production in these areas means processors and packing sheds – the big employers in the basin—are left with no choice but to stand down workers. This forces more people out of Basin communities to look for work, and with less people needing their services, institutions like banks and schools also close down. It’s a vicious cycle, and every Australian will feel it as their grocery bills skyrocket. 

And where does most of this water recovered for the environment go? Down into South Australia’s Lower Lakes, where about 1000 gigaliters just evaporate into the air every year. These are not natural freshwater lakes; before the barrages were built near the Murray mouth in the 1930s, they were saltwater lakes, and seawater penetrated inland as far as Swan Reach, 250km upstream. 

Labor and the Greens did a very dirty deal to get this bill hastily passed, a deal also involving the Jacqui Lambie Network and newly-independent senator David Van. We don’t know what favours were traded, but it’s a fair bet they’re not in the interests of Australia.