Water – Time to be bold

If Monday night’s QandA was any indication, everyone around the country is now focussed on the water challenge. Industry leaders, state and federal government departments and politicians are slowly beginning to coalesce into a coherent assembly of concerned Australians. We must harness this widespread community interest. The drought is dragging on and on. There is no time left for endless consultations. While so many are now focussed, it’s time for thinking outside the box and making decisions that might fly in the face of policies and regulations, but it must be so.

Riverland Wine, supported by almonds, citrus, summerfruits, avocados and the two main irrigation trusts, has written to Minister Littleproud with one key suggestion:

‘We respectfully request that the Government takes urgent action and places Murray-Darling Basin environmental water on the temporary market to bring short term relief from water buyback programs in regional communities and appropriate these funds for long-term specific community projects that will ease the burden of droughts in future years’

The rationale for this suggestion is simple. The unsustainably high prices for water, throughout the Basin are driven by demand. In order to temper this demand and truly identify the value of a megalitre in the various districts across the Basin, there is one lever the government can pull quickly and that’s the release of some of the water recovered through buyback programs in recent years. That’s not to deny the Plan must be given a chance to work in the long run.

Almost everyone, regardless of how informed they are, has an opinion as to whether the MDB policy mix is right, wrong or indifferent. The indisputable fact, however, is that individuals, industries and whole communities are at high risk. The mental health challenges are absolutely real. International markets, secured by decades of slog, are at high risk if we cannot take a more measured approach to implementing the Plan. We need to pause.

The price for temporary water nudging $1,000 per ML, roughly $800 more than at the same time last year. It’s time for some courageous leadership. It’s time for sensible intervention. The ACCC inquiry into the Water Markets is just getting into stride. The debates will be furious. But the final report will not be presented to the government for another 12 months. It will take plenty more time after that for impactful policy changes to be made.

In the meantime, we have an opportunity to harness the heightened community awareness and find ways to make some bold decisions for the benefit of our communities, our environment and the economic welfare of the country; it depends on the Murray-Darling Basin.

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