WATER: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Environmental flows could cost taxpayers billions
, June 14, 2003
The Murray Valley Community Action Group (MVCAG) has estimated the cost of taking 1,500 gigalitres, or 15% of farmers water allocations in the Murray Darling Basin, at over $5 billion.
The proposal to remove water allocations is contained in The Living Murray
report, produced by the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council.
The MVCAG Chairman, Lester Wheatley, argues that "Like every other Australian, we want a healthy working Murray River supporting environmental, commercial, and recreational activities but the Ministerial Council is rushing for a result before the science and social impacts on communities like ours have been considered by all stakeholders, which includes every Australian and every Australian taxpayer."
"The two million residents of the Murray Darling Basin will not stand by and have their livelihoods decimated as governments both State and Federal destroy the social and economic fabric of the Basin, which is the food bowl of our Nation.
"Once the water is committed, the substantial and adverse impact on Australia's economy will be irreversible," Mr Wheatley said.
In a submission made on the issue late last year to the Murray Darling Basin Commission, the MVCAG said that "the environmental science that underpins The Living Murray
document remains a mystery ... So far, the opinions and attitudes of the scientists have gone unchallenged and the community feels that it is being asked to simply accept these views without some openly contested justification."
It said that a recent summit held by the MVCAG was at odds with the Living Murray proposals and "strongly felt that the water managers, scientists and the community should first be debating what are the specific river health problems, how severe are they and how much 'recovery' should we be seeking consistent with community aspirations and the tolerable associated socioeconomic impacts. Only then should the megalitres impact on water allocations be debated."
The submission warned that banking and valuation experts at the Group's water summit had warned that "the present limited period for a water licence in NSW, together with no sensible compensation/structural adjustment policy, does not in many cases allow bankable loans for property management to be structured and this will greatly limit the farmer's ability to undertake the quite large changes to land and water management that will be necessary in the future."
Concern was expressed at the objectivity of the States in investigating water proposals and their willingness to help shoulder the costs of changes and compensation to farmers.
Hence the MVCAG suggested that an independent commission of several experts, supported by a technical team, be appointed to report directly to the Murray Darling Ministerial Council on the enormously complex issues involved.