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Strengthen regional communities, don't strangle them

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Strengthen regional communities, not strangle them


The social and economic impacts of changed water allocations must be given the same weight as the environment in the final version of the Murray Darling Basin plan.

“I am alarmed by a statement to Senate Estimates today by the CEO of the Murray Darling Basin Authority that the Authority will deliver on environmental objectives, irrespective of the findings of its own economic impact assessment,” said the Leader of The Nationals and Acting Shadow Water spokesman, Warren Truss.

“To date, Basin communities have been run over by an environmental agenda that has not paid enough regard to their livelihoods and the region’s status as a critical food and fibre producer.

“No-one has provided justification for the chosen level of water cuts or explained how the environmental water will be managed.

“The proposed inquiry by a House of Representatives committee must allow the people of the Murray Darling Basin a voice that they have so far been denied.

“But to allow that voice, the terms of reference for the inquiry must be centred not just on meeting environmental objectives but also on the effect on the livelihoods of the two million people in the basin of the final Murray Darling Basin plan. The plan must be genuinely compliant with the Howard-Anderson Government’s National Water Initiative.

“We cannot allow a situation where the inquiry’s terms of reference are just as deficient as the present guide, released only days ago but already creating fear and resentment across a vast swathe of Australia.

“Federal Labor has handled this issue appallingly. The Gillard Government dropped the bomb and then ran for its life, and is only now coming down from the hills to try to tend the injured.

“The people affected are Australians who have done nothing wrong but produce the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Yet Labor has allowed them to be painted as environmental vandals who would waste expensive water than use it productively.

“For the best part of three years, Labor has sat on the $5.8 billion in funds available to improve water infrastructure and management.

Precious little of this sum has actually been spent - only about $320 million according to the last Budget.

“Yet the wise use of this money on engineering and water distribution projects, the introduction of efficient water meters and reduction of further seepage and evaporation would go a very long way towards achieving the water savings needed to restore the Murray Darling river system to good health.

“This could be a win-win for the environment and farmers, and win-win for the regions and cities. Labor could take much of the heat out of this debate but so far it has not shown the necessary competence and imagination.

“It is essential that any doubt be removed about the Authority’s capacity to make recommendations which will balance economic, social and environmental priorities. The Committee’s terms of reference must address this,” Mr Truss said.