The politics of the Basin Plan


Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, this is what confronts vast areas of drought- and fire-ravaged regional Australia.
Now more than ever we demand and expect decisions that transcend political and ideological divisions.

The full extent of the physical, emotional and economic costs will take months, if not years to become fully accountable. But there are some immediate actions that can be taken to assist those in need with regards to preservation of commercial livestock, the dairy industry and those farmers struggling to protect their future and their livestock.

The current drought (all of NSW is now drought-declared) has depleted grain production and fodder production to dangerously-low levels. The shortage of natural pastures means that agistment and depleted fodder reserves will place further pressure upon the ability to provide cost-effective and adequate relief to those livestock and dairy producers severely affected by the recent fires. This is the time when we all wish to assist and expect our governments to reciprocate.

As this is occurring, thousands of acres of efficient irrigated agricultural land lie idle while we continue to release environmental water into the Southern Ocean. The politics of the preceding sentence are both contentious and controversial, but we are dealing with a national State of Disaster across every state. This is not about the politics of the Basin Plan, this is in the national interest.

I am sure that all State Governments comprehend the magnitude of the problem and wish to provide genuine leadership and deliver solutions for those in need. The scaling back of current environmental watering programs to make water available for grain and fodder production is in the best interests of all Australians, but most importantly to those in need of assistance.

There is still a current “window of opportunity” available to enable irrigators to plant some late summer forage crops, water existing pasture and hay crops and pre-irrigate in the autumn for winter cereal production. We can turn large areas of unproductive land and infrastructure into a valuable component of the restoration process in order to assist those in need.

I am cognisant of many of the issues associated with making this water available but do not believe that this should be an impediment to the implementation of the proposal. There is one important matter that I would stipulate be non-negotiable to the provision of this water and that is, “use it or lose it”. This water cannot be transferable, tradable or able to be carried over for future use.  It is only available for immediate productive use.
The Commonwealth government is the largest owner of water in Australia and it is incumbent upon them to use that water in the national interest. Currently it is obvious to most Australians as to where the national interest lies.

As the Commonwealth government asked the states to enable them to call up the military to assist with the bushfire relief process, it is equally important that the state governments ask the Commonwealth to make water available to assist the nation in the preservation and rebuilding of the national herd, flock and dairy production. Food security ranks alongside the protection of human life and property.

Harold Clapham,
Deniliquin NSW