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Detail needed on Murray-Darling plan says VFF

The VFF is calling for more detail on the recenty announced changes to the Murray Darling Basin plan.

GEOFF ADAMS November 6, 2012 4:05am

The VFF wants to see more detail on the Federal Government’s promise to reduce irrigation buy-backs to obtain water for the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

Federal Water Minister Tony Burke has told reporters large scale buy-backs will not be run again.

Rural communities and irrigators in northern Victoria and the southern Riverina have argued against the untargeted buy-backs of water entitlements because of their random nature and the removal of productive irrigation land from the region.

VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said if Mr Burke was sure about cutting back on buy-backs he should nominate the figures.

‘‘The GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District) can’t afford to lose large amounts of water,’’ Mr Anderson said.

He said the open tender process would create holes in irrigation areas and put the viability of irrigation under threat. He said buy-backs should only be permitted under the Foodbowl Modernisation Project.

Mr Burke has also said that nearly 1600Gl of the 2750Gl environmental water required under the Murray-Darling Basin plan was already held by the Commonwealth.

He claims only 40Gl a year is left to be recovered if 600Gl can be secured from environmental works and 650Gl from infrastructure changes.

Mr Anderson agreed these figures were reassuring.

Mr Burke has also clarified where some of the $1.7billion will be spent to obtain a further 450Gl for the environment, announced recently in South Australia.

Of the extra funding, $200 million will be used to remove constraints such as low lying bridges and undersized dam outlets that currently limit both the volume of water that can flow through river systems and the environmental uses to which it can be put.

‘‘There are many floodplain farmers who would willingly provide an easement,’’ Mr Burke said.

‘‘That won’t apply to everyone who farms on the floodplain.’’

Country News asked Mr Burke’s office if any of the $1.7billion would be directed to public irrigation upgrades like the Foodbowl Modernisation Project.

The office pointed to a comment by Mr Burke that he didn’t rule out any option that had no social or economic downsides.

‘‘Our expectation is that the infrastructure work will be on-farm, we don’t rule out other options,’’ he said.

The VFF has also demanded the Federal Government delete all references to buying up irrigators’ entitlements in a Bill enshrining how its $1.7billion water for the environment account will be spent.

The government’s Water for the Environment Special Account Bill, introduced to Parliament last week, states funding will be used for: ‘‘purchasing water access rights’’.

‘‘We were led to believe this fund would focus on investing in irrigation infrastructure to save water in the Murray-Darling Basin,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘It’s either a case of extremely poor word choice or the government is pulling the wool over irrigators’ eyes.’’

Mr Anderson will get a chance to put the VFF’s case and ask for clarification when they appear before a federal parliamentary committee this week.

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