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Critics damn Murray-Darling deal -

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Critics damn Murray-Darling deal

The World Today - Friday, 4 July , 2008 12:14:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

ELEANOR HALL: South Australia's irrigators say they will resist any moves from yesterday's COAG
(Council of Australian Governments) meeting to increase water charges on the Murray River.

Australia's political leaders approved a $3.7-billion package to improve water management and
infrastructure in the Murray Darling Basin. And the states officially signed over control of the
basin to a new authority.

But irrigators in South Australia say the agreement does not provide the urgent water flows
desperately needed, and the Greens say the new Murray deal has condemned the Lower Lakes to death.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: The deal reached by the Prime Minister and the states is a big breakthrough for the
River Murray because for the first time in 100 years there will be one national body making crucial
decisions on the river's management.

At a political level it's significant because in theory the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority will
stop politicians protecting their own patch and instead base decisions on science alone.

But the problem is it won't necessarily mean water straightaway. And the irrigators in South
Australia's Riverland say all it will mean for them is that they will have to pay more money for
less water.

Jeff Parish is the head of the organisation in the Riverland with the tough job of buying and
selling water to thousands of irrigators in South Australia's food bowl.

Mr Parish is the chief executive of the Central Irrigation Trust and he says the environmental
agreement that is part of the COAG agreement, is problematic for Riverland irrigators.

JEFF PARISH: It's to do with the way that water businesses do their pricing. It will affect our
growers in the future and the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has a huge role
in the future determination of water prices so there is an awful lot of stuff to work through in
that agreement and it will undoubtedly lead to some change in the way that we supply water to our
farmers.

NANCE HAXTON: He says the district will fight the planned changes agreed to yesterday by the
Council of Australian Governments, but he doesn't like their chances.

JEFF PARISH: We've got a couple of years yet to beaver away and see if we can't get some
compromise. I've got to say that the odds don't look too good at the moment for winning this one.

I think for once in my life, I'm facing a major issue that might be unwinnable.

NANCE HAXTON: Michael Punturiero grows citrus and owns a packing plant in the Riverland.

He says the state governments have not grappled with the gravity of the situation faced by South
Australian irrigators at the lower reaches of the Murray River. He says they need urgent flows
released from the Menindee Lakes in New South Wales if they are to survive.

MICHAEL PUNTURIERO: I strongly believe they are not listening at all because there is nothing in
relation in talking about immediate help to irrigators here in the Riverland, yhere has been no
mention at all.

It is all long-plan stuff so that is a big concern straight away. We have already had two, three
years of this. Now it basically appears that we are coming up for tough times and our permanent
plantings will not withstand the upcoming summers at all.

They are talking about infrastructure, but infrastructure will not help me immediate - like now.
See, they keep talking about long-term plans. This is a crisis that needs to be dealt with now.

NANCE HAXTON: You don't think the Government has done that?

MICHAEL PUNTURIERO: No, well they are not listening. Everything they are talking about is going to
take years. Let's focus on the big picture. There is one Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

It is one river and look at it as a whole and have one set of rules for all users regardless if
you're farmer, industry, whatever and to be meted accordingly, that way to be a fair and equitable
process. For it to ... all an equal playing field and away we go.

And if they start releasing some of the water, we can see some hope. That will give us some hope.

We are reduced, like we're drained to the point of just ... you got no, you're sucking through a
straw and it is very difficult.

ELEANOR HALL: That was Michael Punturiero and that report produced by Nance Haxton and Alexandra
Parry.