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Murray-Darling Basin Plan
Social, economic and environmental impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional communities

KNIGHT, Mr Alister, Private capacity

OBERIN, Mr Donald, Private capacity

PATTISON, Mr Kenneth (Ken), Private capacity

SNELSON, Mr Stephen, Chairman, Koyuga South Irrigators Group


CHAIR: Welcome. Would you like to make your statements?

Mr Knight : Thank you for listening today. I am a young farmer from Boort in north central Victoria. We farm a mixed enterprise of sheep with wool and fat lambs as well as cropping. As mentioned today, a lot of this is about young farmers and the future of our industry, so I thought I had better jump up here and spruik on behalf of us. Water for us is important. We have a lot of land and we have future plans on how we want to develop and grow our agricultural business, and a lot of that is based around water. For that we need security, and we have a price mark on where we are profitable. Once temporary water goes over that, our business plans essentially crumble.

I am the youngest of three brothers. If water prices stay as they are, it will most likely be unviable for all three of us to stay on the farm, which would be a very similar situation for a lot of young farmers trying to enter into the industry. It is good to hear today big industries who have money can go out and put in infrastructure that can be water saving, but we are young, we have to start from scratch and we need to make that profit margin to start with so we can look down the track to increase our infrastructure. I did a submission; it is probably in there somewhere. For us to see environmental water just float down a river, in a year that has been dry like this one, is quite hard to see. The way I envisage it, it should more be held back and more science should be put into actually having simulations of water flowing down a river to simulate what it would be in a year like this year—not much rainfall. Therefore, science says—and I am a science student graduate from the University of Melbourne—for those flows to be going down the river—

Senator McKENZIE: Not majoring in environmental science?

Mr Knight : A little bit. I did some ecology back in the day. Anyway, I see we need to hold more water in storages so that we can essentially drought-proof ourselves—have five- to eight-year outlooks—and then water allocations can then be based on that. Thank you for your time.

Mr Snelson : I am an irrigator on the central Goulburn system at Tongala. I am very much unprepared. I did not know this meeting was on until I went to court this morning for another matter. I think I won that one, so hopefully I will win this one.

I appear today as the chairperson for our group, which is called the Koyuga South Irrigators Group. It was formed to address the so-called modernisation rules and practices on our community channels. It is interesting you have the words 'consultation' and 'modernisation' centred around the Goulburn-Murray Water authority. They have a different dictionary to most farmers. Their consultation is very limited. From what we have seen of it it is just their way. We had to form a community group, and we have done that. We have asked for numerous details as to how the connections people are governing the rules around the outcomes and the so-called modernisation. We were told by Mr Calleja that he was not there to fund any pipedreams.

We have three family groups on our system that have over 100 years of participation in irrigation. I have only been there 21 years. Our system has gone through all of the modernisation government programs—the farm plans. We have a system that was developed on a 70-megalitre system 100 years ago. The forefathers that Mr Eagle spoke about must have been more intelligent than the ones we have now, because that system still operates. I cannot give you the figures for the area. I have them for the figures, and they will not supply the figures of losses. They will not supply the area of irrigated area. We have developed all our farm plans. We have surrendered those plans to them, and we still cannot get any figures out of Goulburn-Murray Water or RPS, who are the connections company.

As I say, I did not prepare for this meeting very well and I apologise for that. But you wanted our personal experience. We have a number of young farmers, both in cropping and dairy, all doing their own on-farm development. If we do not toe the line in one year and one day, they can shut us down under the rule set up by the previous government, I am told. Whether that happens or not, I do not know; it might be an exaggeration, I hope. But that is the sort of level of negotiation we are faced with. From all the meetings I have had with Mr Calleja, Goulburn-Murray Water, RPS and the connections: unless we can get a change of rules that says you do not have to have a pump and you do not have to have a pipe to get savings on a system—our system has not seen an excavator of any note, apart from patching up a leak, for 50 years, until I got on the committee. This week a 20-tonne excavator arrived right at the back door of my house and desalled the channel. That's about where I am at.

CHAIR: Can I suggest that if you have any more to add you put in an additional submission.

Mr Snelson : I will. This was not happening when this all started.

CHAIR: Okay. You are over time and we are at the end of the day, so—

Mr Snelson : Can I just summarise what I would like to see you do?

CHAIR: You should have started with that.

Mr Snelson : I should have, too. Basically the reason I sat here today is: if the rules are not changed on how the savings are organised, then we cannot really modernise our system. The rules around how to get the outcomes to get water and pay for it are the big problem. Goulburn-Murray Water really cannot do much unless those rules are changed.

Mr Pattison : I am a candidate for tomorrow, and I was asked to speak briefly—

CHAIR: You are a candidate for tomorrow?

Mr Pattison : Yes, I am listed to speak at Shepparton tomorrow.

Senator McKENZIE: You are a witness tomorrow?

Mr Pattison : I am.

CHAIR: You do need to talk to us today.

Mr Pattison : I just wanted to clarify 'the community', because you were trying to get an answer for that. But you could ask me tomorrow.

CHAIR: We will talk to you then.

Mr Obern : I am a life member of the of the Murray Darling Association and a previous president. I have been the mayor of the city here for a few years. I look on with interest and I appreciate the independence of the panel. I am a practising farmer and irrigator and I have four or five pumps that come out of the Gunbower Creek. I live five yards from the rear bank of the Campaspe River in the city of Echuca.

We all have to solve: how did we get the situation that we are in so wrong? Perhaps we should go back before the Howard government lost power and ask: who was the minister for water prior to Howard losing government? I think he is now our Prime Minister. I was at a meeting with that good gentleman where he expounded his knowledge about water and how Sydney may be short of water and this and this and such and such. There were not many claps. There were about 1,300 people there. He sat down and, unfortunately, he sat beside me. I said, 'You made a balls-up out of that, son!' He said, 'I'm on a learning curve.' I said, 'These blokes who have come to listen to you were waiting for you to tell them how to grow rice without bloody water.' He said, 'I did stuff up, didn't I?' Now he is our current Prime Minister.

So how do we get it so wrong? They lost the election and Labor took the easy option. They looked at the Liberal party's water policy, and what did we get first? The environment.

With justification, I am sick of appeasing the environmentalists. All the environmentalists' concerns run down the river—the same water that the farmers use to produce food. There is no environmental requirement. It runs down the river to do two jobs at once. Take note of that comment. It serves the environment, and everyone wants to be an environmentalist, because it does not cost them anything but it sounds good at a social outing: 'I'm worried about the environment.' They cannot give you an example of what is worrying them, but you hear these fancy tales about the environment.

In practical terms, if you have no water—and I am a practising irrigator; I have a nice water right, but I had a better one—where has all the water gone? I sold one of my farms because I was in hospital and they were going to cut my right leg off above the knee, and the fellow came to me and said, 'How are you going to manage your farm when you come home?' I said I would not be able to. He asked, 'Have you thought of selling your farm?' I said, 'As a matter of fact, I am.' The sad thing is that we have had three or four farms, and my eldest son learnt to weld plastic pipe, and we put plastic pipe all around our farms. We did not get a government subsidy. At the time we were making a few dollars. But it was an enhancement that made watering a pleasure, and of course from then it has become more modern and has better technology. My eldest son passed on not long after this, but it left me the benefit of all his infrastructure.

So, to finish the story I started about the man trying to buy my farm, I said, 'Well, I have a fair good water right with it,' and he said, 'I'm not interested in the water.' It will make your hair stand on end, you fellows; it will concern you. This is what he said: 'I don't want the water; you can keep the water.' I said, 'Okay; I'll keep the water,' and all of a sudden I had about 1,200 megalitres of water on a farm that needed only about 600 or 700. So I said, 'By God, this is a bit of a bloody problem,' but I had a destination. I had to put the water somewhere. You could not just have water without land—did you know that? So I abided by the rules, and somebody said that the government was trying to buy water. I said, 'That's interesting; who's selling it?' They said you could go to a stock agent or something—one of the blokes in the capacity of a real estate agent somewhere here. I said I would sell 500 megalitres. I am not in this to be public, but they are all behind me listening to what I am going to say: I sold them 500 megalitres of water. So, I am a water trader, aren't I? But I still left myself enough water to water my farm through four pumps coming out of the Gunbower Creek in a big plastic pipe—no shovels; their days are gone; you kill a snake with a bit of wire now, not a shovel.

Anyway, I got the benefit of that money; it was a nice little amount of money. I have done something else with it since, but I have still retained the farm. I milk 400 cows. Last year at the Corowa conference I asked the environment minister—who is the biggest water holder in Australia—how much he earned with his kilolitres of water. I said I had 800 and grossed just over $1 million off my farm and asked, 'How did you get on with yours?' Pretty bloody embarrassing! But he had the fortitude to have a quick answer. He said, 'You can't value the environmental water', and I said, 'Of course you can't, because it doesn't bloody produce anything. So we all went home, and he went home quicker than most of us. But I still think he has his job, and I still have my farm. I am 86 years old, and I still have a bit of axe in myself, but I am not selling my farm. I love my farm. And I appreciate the comments of these young fellows who are trying to get a start. It is not easy, kids. I grew tomatoes with irrigation years ago, in 1949, and I supplied Corowa and Bendigo, four and six a case. It is one of these stories: a young knight up here—I went to school with his father. The younger generation of today, with a little bit of encouragement, if you can work out why the environment is all of a sudden more important than the human race and we sign a big trade agreement we cannot manufacture, then without water we cannot produce anything either, so the environment comes last in my book, not first. Thank you.

CHAIR: I am glad you saw the end there. I did not want to end what was the most entertaining discussion of the day. Thank you, everyone.

Committee adjourned at 17 : 35