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Threat of more water buy-backs

There is a threat of extra water buy-backs if the Federal Government collects another 450 gigalitres (GL) of water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, according to the Murray Group of Concerned Communities (MGCC).

November 15, 2012 4:12am

Federal Water Minister Tony Burke recently announced the water would come from about $1.5 billion worth of on-farm efficiency works, and not a general buy-back tender.

However, while a general tender has been ruled out, MGCC chair Bruce Simpson said they have ‘‘unofficially’’ heard there could still be buy-backs.

Under current on-farm infrastructure deals, if a farmer expects to save a certain amount of water in efficiencies, 50 per cent of that must be signed over to the government for environmental purposes.

However, Mr Simpson said that may not be the case when the government sources its 450GL.

‘‘What I’ve been told is they (government) have the potential to access 100 per cent of the [efficiency] savings, not 50 per cent as is the current arrangement,’’ he said.

Ms Simpson said if the landholder refuses to relinquish the other 50 per cent, the government will go into the market and buy that volume of water instead.

‘‘That’s not good,’’ he said.

‘‘We want no further buy-back. Buy-back is the thing that undermines our communities.’’

MGCC member Perin Davey said the details of the proposal were still unclear, saying ‘‘nothing has been released yet’’.

‘‘What Tony Burke has said is that where the 450GL is identified to come from efficiencies, there may be purchases that are required to complement those efficiencies,’’ she said.

Ms Davey believes the information about buy-backs came from private conversations Mr Burke had with irrigator stakeholders.

She also reiterated the MGCC would not support such a move.

The basin plan is expected to divert 2750GL of productive water to the environment, with an adjustment mechanism that could allow between 2400GL to 3200GL to be diverted.

The diversion can only be raised by 450GL to 3200GL if there are no negative social or economic impacts on communities.

In Mr Burke’s recent announcement about the government’s intention to divert 3200GL, he said the efficiency measures will have neutral or positive social and economic outcomes.

However, Mr Simpson said the plan going to 2750GL and beyond presents significant third party risks — ‘‘and it’s up to the community to hold the government accountable’’.

‘‘It’s already in the plan up to 2750GL; there should be no third party impact,’’ he said.

‘‘To move beyond 2750GL, one of the criteria is there can be no third party impact, which includes social and economic [impacts].

‘‘It will be us, the community, that has to keep reminding them of that. That will be our challenge. And it will be a challenge. So we’re not happy about it (increasing the diversion to 3200GL).

‘‘We’re the ones left to say ‘no, it will have an impact’. We’ve got to argue and debate it and prove it and use our resources. That in itself is a third party impact.’’

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