Flawed basin plan doomed from the start?

If you want to eat, farmers need water: a Murray Darling Basin Plan community consultation meeting in Mildura in 2010. Photo by Angela Wylie, Canberra Times.
If you want to eat, farmers need water: a Murray Darling Basin Plan community consultation meeting in Mildura in 2010. Photo by Angela Wylie, Canberra Times.

NSW Farmers is calling on ABC TV to ask the right questions about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan following revelations of misleading scientific evidence used in the plan's development.

The episode of Four Corners which aired on July 8 instead looked at the $4 billion in Water Infrastructure Scheme subsidies paid to farmers to enhance their water efficiency, in return for giving up some of their water to environmental flows.

NSW Farmers' Conservation and Resource Management committee chair Bronwyn Petrie, a local farmer who is also a Tenterfield Shire councillor, says the revelations of tampering are the real smoking gun.

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She is urging Four Corners to investigate this aspect of the debacle, rather than the taxpayer-funded scheme which has seen farmers return more than 700 gigalitres of water to the 9000 gigalitres available for the environment.

"If there's to be an investigation into anything, we should be focussing our attention on the alarming revelations that scientific evidence was tampered with, which may have resulted in the Murray Darling Basin Plan being developed on misleading information," Ms Petrie said.

"Farmers across the Murray Darling Basin, including many NSW Farmers members, are battling one of the worst droughts on record, with near-record low inflows into the system. The ABC Four Corners' decision to focus so heavily, and misleadingly, on productive agricultural practices operating within the law demonstrates a lack of understanding."

Tenterfield farmer and councillor Bronwyn Petrie also chairs the NSW Farmers' Conservation and Resource Management committee, and criticises the way NSW farmers are portrayed in the Four Corners report on the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Tenterfield farmer and councillor Bronwyn Petrie also chairs the NSW Farmers' Conservation and Resource Management committee, and criticises the way NSW farmers are portrayed in the Four Corners report on the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Ms Petrie said the Four Corners team would be better to spend its time investigating the vested interests in the environmental movement who want to shut regional Australia down by removing water from productive agricultural purposes to prop up man-made freshwater lakes in South Australia.

"The ABC should commit to placing the same amount of scrutiny upon the scientific community which has made questionable claims about the lower lakes and Coorong, and then they should apologise to the hard-working farmers across the Murray Darling Basin who have been tarnished by the ABC's ill-informed sensationalism."

Ms Petrie said farmers needed it to rain, but they also need a fair go from the media in relation to water issues.

"The Murray Darling Basin Plan is an historic compromise which has left many farmers in NSW literally high and dry, in pursuit of environmental objectives and demands from South Australia. It remains far from perfect, and there are elements which should be amended if it is to achieve the environmental outcomes it was established to deliver.

"The Murray Darling Basin Plan has reduced the amount of water available for irrigation across the basin. If farmers are using 'more' water it is because they are buying it from an already reduced pool of water and from another farmer. There is not an infinite supply."

She said those in the city need to understand that for food to appear in their local greengrocer or supermarket, it needs to be grown on a farm with water.

"Take away the water and you take away the produce.

"Farmers are doing more than their fair share in returning water to the environment and it is about time these sacrifices were recognised."

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