Calls for greater leadership around the basin plan

By Dylan Arvela

Moira Shire Councillor Ed Cox delivered an impassioned plea for an immediate pause of the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan at last month’s council meeting.

Cr Cox moved a three-point motion during urgent general business, which called for greater leadership to be shown by governments at a state and federal level regarding the water industry.

The motion called on the Federal Government to ``delay further implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan's water recovery targets until research commissioned by the Federal Water Minister into the social and economic impacts on basin communities is available, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission has completed its review on aspects of the basin plan and more rigorous scientific research is undertaken on the basin plans objective of maintaining the South Australian lower lakes as freshwater''.

It also encouraged ``the Victorian and NSW state governments to broaden their review of the sustainability of inter valley water transfers and its impact on river health and the Barmah National Park to include the proposition that Victorian and NSW water security arrangements be consolidated so that the southern connected basins water resources are managed as an integrated system''.

The third point sought ``the Victorian State Government's acknowledgement that the current water trading arrangements in Victoria are exposing critical food and fibre sectors to industry collapse due to unsustainable water prices and urge the State Government to implement water trading zones and establish water trading rules that will limit manipulation of the water market by investors that are not directly involved in agriculture''.

Cr Cox, a Cobram district farmer, said he had had high hopes for the plan - where everyone was on the same page when it came to water.

He believed lacklustre management and implementation from the offset has led to dire consequences for people living in the food bowl of Australia.

“(The MDBP) has been hijacked by whoever and whatever,” he said.

“We have been led up the garden path and it has been real mess from the start.

“We have got to this situation now because we have no political will power at state level politics or federal politics.

“We are crying out (for help), our Federal Water Minister (David Littleproud) may as well be up the back paddock in an empty dam because he is not coming to the fore.

“He is ducking his responsibilities for one of the most important parts of Australia and what built this part of the world.”

Cr Cox believed the plan had been turned into a money-making scheme, which was benefiting investors rather than farmers and irrigators. He wants governments to ‘grow a backbone’ and regain control of the water industry.

“The investors are messing with the (water) market,” he said.

“The State and Federal governments need to hit them with a significant fixed charge, so they think twice about owning waters shares.

“Investors have too much control in the water industry, while Joe Blow farmers and irrigators are struggling.”

Cr Cox apologised to Moira Shire residents, who he felt he had let down by not managing to help implement significant reforms in the sector.

“I want to apologise to the ratepayers of Moira,” Cr Cox said.

“In all my dealings and meetings, here, there and all over the eastern seaboard, my flights, accommodations and food they have paid for me.

“I feel as if I have let them down because I haven’t achieved what I though was basic common sense about the future of our water industry.

“I am not here to save every irrigator, I am here to save the water industry.”

Five other councillors spoke in support of the motion and it was carried unanimously.