Victorian irrigators have been assured they are being included in all efforts to increase water availability for food production.
Their interests are being strongly represented in lobbying efforts and there has never been any intention or comment made that could in any way reduce their water availability.
“In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” said Chris Brooks, who was a key organiser of this week’s Convoy to Canberra rally, during which he held extensive talks with federal Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud and interim Inspector General for the Murray-Darling Basin Mick Keelty.
Mr Brooks said this clarification was needed following a statement released by the Victorian Farmers’ Federation water council chair Richard Anderson, who expressed concerns about threats to Victorian water if there were changes to water sharing rules.
“Unfortunately Mr Anderson has not been part of most discussions, apart from a delegation that met with the National Farmers’ Federation, and appears to have misunderstood the direction we are heading in. Although it is disappointing that he did not seek clarification before making a public statement, we cannot withdraw what he has said. However, we can set the record straight,” Mr Brooks said.
He said first and foremost, the Convoy to Canberra was designed to get the political and media spotlight on issues around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including its failings and the impact this was having on farmers and rural communities. This was successfully achieved.
It was organised by concerned citizens from NSW and Victoria as a collaborative effort to rectify water mismanagement that is impacting both states, and seek a fairer distribution of the available water resources, especially for Victoria and NSW.
“Those involved in coordinating the events in Canberra earlier this week have been working for a number of years to build relationships across the Southern Basin. They have been rock steady, as have I, to ensure that we fight for the benefit of the entire Southern Basin.
We would not endorse any investigation which takes water away from our cousins in Victoria,” he said.
Mr Brooks said it appeared the statements from Mr Anderson were “a knee-jerk reaction” and a prime example of why people should be fully informed and not jump to conclusions before making public comment.
He said the intention has always been to do what is best for the entire Southern Connected System. There has never been any intention to rearrange state shares, or disadvantage Victoria over NSW.
“We have said all along that we need to stand united and I, along with others involved in the Convoy to Canberra, remain committed to that.
“What we do want to investigate is how the Basin Plan has distorted availability of productive water to the Southern Connected System. Any outcomes from these investigations would be shared between NSW and Victoria 50:50,” Mr Brooks said.
He said there were alarming volumes of water locked away and not accessible to food producers in this crisis period and this could be partially due to archaic rules based policy that pre-dates the Basin Plan.
Mr Brooks explained that as an example there are 2600 gigalitres (or over five Sydney Harbours) set aside for running the river and whether that is now appropriate with the Basin Plan in place needs to be investigated.
Mr Brooks said it was disappointing that thousands of people had to go to Canberra to deliver a message and get some action. He questioned why it took volunteers to come up with solutions, when we have highly paid bureaucrats and others in water policy circles who have been unable to recognise or achieve the balanced solutions that are needed.
“We see plenty of wasted water running out to sea and these are the volumes we are targeting from a variety of water parcels. They include things like salt dilution, which is no longer required and should be given back to the productive pool. All these volumes are equally contributed and would be split evenly between Victoria and New South Wales.
“I hope in the future Mr Anderson and his VFF colleagues will talk to us, work with us and help develop the collaborative strength that is needed so we can secure more water for our struggling food producers,” Mr Brooks said.