Mr David May: We have South Australia with so much political power. We want the NSW government to bat for us!
We are in an area that has lost 45 per cent of our entitlements, so you can imagine the impact that has had on our local area.
Acting Chair: Would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr MAY: Yes, I would, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today, but the fact is we are a bit worn out. I have been doing this for 30 years now, but since the basin plan has come about it has been full on. I make the point that that the plan has divided our community. We are in an area that has lost 45 per cent of our entitlements, so you can imagine the impact that has had on our local area. It has been very divisive in its nature. It has created division within the community, through the buybacks, through the on-farm efficiencies. It is getting very wearying and taxing. We do this on a voluntary basis, and I make the point that the plan originally was an environmental plan. We have gone about it trying to have some local input to address the environmental plan. Now the whole thing has been turned around, and the MDBA has acknowledged that it is a political plan. We feel a bit hamstrung. Where do we go? One minute we tried to put things out that are based on local knowledge, and yet it is all about politics.
But it (the MDBA) is throwing up their hands and saying it is a political plan!
We are so disillusioned with the MDBA because it is meant to be the independent umpire. You have heard it all before. We rely on that organization to give government the right perspective and the right direction. But it is throwing up their hands and saying it is a political plan. We have had people dealing with the constraints management strategy from the MDBA who have left their positions because they felt they were not being true to their word in the negotiations they were having with landholders. This has happened time and time again. We have the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder who has told us, “This is primarily an environmental plan”. All we are asking for is some balance. Those are two examples of how we feel like we are skidding our wheels up against a wall.
We have South Australia at the other end of the system that has so much political power!
It is all about flows. The authority has not addressed the riparian landholders’ issues, so how are these flows going to be delivered? We are here today to make sure that we get the New South Wales Government to come in to bat for us. At the moment we are finding it very difficult to make any traction, and we rely on our State Government to do the heavy lifting for us. We have South Australia at the other end of the system that has so much political power. South Australia comes out with ad hoc generalizations; the 450 upwater is a classic example. It was only ever put there with the proviso that there were no third-party impacts. We have displayed those third-party impacts but we have had to do that ourselves. An organization around this area at the moment is just putting $100,000 into a report to try to show the impacts. If that is the case, it should be dismissed, but no, we have Federal politicians coming out with one-liners. It is just not fair. We feel as though we are not getting the support from our New South Wales Government. There are some solutions, and I have them, but I probably should stop there.
ACTING CHAIR: You could stop and table your solutions.
Mr MAY: I cannot table my notes.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: We are interested in solutions.
….equates to about 7.5 billion meals, which could feed 7 million (people) for a year!
Mr MAY: When I say solutions, in the past there has been terrific uptake of land and water management plans to change the demographics and productivity of our area. To counter some of the third-party impacts, maybe having initiatives where we have the on-farm efficiency stuff but we do not give back any water. We look at augmenting our system, we look at trying to find ways to replace the water. Last night I looked and in 2008, when the Living Murray was being discussed, a fellow from our organization put together a simple thing about future food production. If we can produce 1.5 tons of grain, meat or whatever from a megalitre of water, that equates to about 1,500,000 grams per megalitre, which equates to 15,000 100-gram serves per megalitre. That equates to about 7.5 billion meals, which could feed 7 million (people) for a year. We are talking about 2 million megalitres that have gone in this plan, so that is a pretty basic example of the impacts of this on production.
Murray Irrigation, our private irrigation company, really runs the risk of becoming unviable. It has lost 30 per cent of its water!
Murray Irrigation, our private irrigation company, really runs the risk of becoming unviable. It has lost 30 per cent of its water. That relies on the remaining irrigators to foot the bill. There is a tipping point at the end of all this. Another solution might be to use Murray Irrigation infrastructure to supply environmental water. There is a whole lot of grant money going around at the moment, and you have to be a bit of a professor to find out about it. It would be good to have transparency there and lump it all together so we have an equitable structure for everyone to access. That was typical of the land and water management plan — everyone was entitled to the same thing. That would bring it out in the open.
We are reluctant to address South Australia because of the political agenda!
There is so much water in our system at the moment, even without augmenting it. It was very refreshing to hear from the shires talk about how they have been looking at alternative water supplies. But there are dilution flows, there are run of the river flows. Obviously there are some trigger points, but South Australia is eligible for 3,000 megalitres per day when certain figures are hit in the upstream catchments. That would be 2 million megalitres in Hume and Dartmouth and 1.3 in Menindee. For the basin plan, with all these flows, they are not required. We need to be smart about that and start addressing some of these issues. We are reluctant to address South Australia because of the political agenda. There is definitely room to move as far as water management is concerned.
We have a situation with the carryover where we can have Hume Dam spilling yet there is airspace in the other storages, which do not enable allocations to grow!
We have developments taking place downstream. There is a lot of nut farming that is going to create some capacity issues down the track. We need to look at that. Our forefathers set up irrigation systems close enough to the source, and now we are moving that downstream. Who is paying for those losses? What is going to happen when there are constraints? It is an enormous problem. We are talking about 200,000 and 300,000 megalitres of extra water to go downstream. There is obviously room to move with the carryover. We have a situation with the carryover where we can have Hume Dam spilling yet there is airspace in the other storages, which do not enable allocations to grow.
But the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is getting his crop watered!
But the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is getting his crop watered. All that water is coming out of the dam, and he is not losing any carryover. Let us get serious about it. We need to make sure we have State politicians batting for us, so we feel that there is a future because we are getting really tired. I think at the moment your department is letting us down. DPI Water, they are losing a lot of experienced people, they have got too much on their plate and I think maybe they are cost-cutting measures, I am pretty sure. I think that is where we need to beef up those resources so we can combat some of this stuff. We need your help because at the moment we are not getting far.
The ACTING CHAIR: Thank you
….the conveyance water and that the extra dilution flows should be part of the environmental water flows….
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: Over -engineered, to say the least. Mr May, I might just ask you about a couple of things you mention in your submission. Re the conveyance water and that the extra dilution flows should be part of the environmental water flows, that is pretty much the basis of what you are suggesting here?
Mr MAY: Yes. To get water from one end to the other there is a component of water that is called conveyance water or run-of-the-river water. That is about a million megalitres. Our association are of the view that that should be regarded as environmental water; it is not just all about productivity, it is environmental flows. If you have not got regulation upstream, the river dries up, and without regulation it would. So to run that river in years where it would normally dry up, is that not an environmental flow?
The average flow to South Australia is 5.6 million megalitres a year. Their entitlement is 1.8. That comes off the top; before we get any water in New South Wales or Victoria, they (South .Australia) get it!
The other part of your question is the dilution flows. South Australia has been very clever throughout this whole debate, and not just recently, like when Dartmouth came on and they started getting more of a share of the resource. If there were certain triggers activated, if there were certain amounts of water in the system, they ask for more diversion flows. I think Louise Burge, who you met earlier is so up to speed, she has done a lot of work on this. The average flow to South Australia is 5.6 million megalitres a year. Their entitlement is 1.8. That comes off the top; before we get any water in New South Wales or Victoria they get it. Maybe they have got enough water. We have got to get smart; we cannot just keep cut, cut, cut. We try and cut our business expenses so much, but then you start affecting your income and you cannot do it anymore.
…we owe our communities; we owe our State to look at doing something…
We have done ourselves a real disservice with this whole basin plan; we have just looked at cutting, cutting, cutting without sort of augmenting the supply. If there was one responsibility that I would expect the Government to be addressing it would be to look at 50 years down the track, because it just does not make sense. If climate change is here, and I am quite open to the fact that climate change is here—fine, I heard the Chairman, Mr Brown, on the radio the other day and I had a similar view to him—I am a farmer, I rely on water. If that is the case, we owe our communities; we owe our State to look at doing something, because we cannot keep cutting. But if we have got some political pressures, as in South Australia, let us look at it a different way.
Would it not be fantastic for New South Wales to come out and say, “Righto, South Australia, you win this. We are just tired. We put it all in front of you. If it is so political we are going to come up with a dam or we are going to come up with some aquifer recharge. We are going to do something that is going to augment our system and it is going to be New South Wales” I live for that day. I think that would be terrific, because at the moment we have put all the science, we have put all the logic in front of these people, like the MDBA, which is supposed to be independent, and we are getting nowhere. They were just two examples. If you look at South Australia or what the environmental flows in the river now are, it is far more than just a basin plan. The Koondrook-Perricoota was a Living Murray project; so that was before the basin plan, although the basin plan takes it in as their base. There is a lot of environmental water there.
…because if there is no water in the storages, you (farmers) do not get any allocation. But, you know what? all the environmental allocations get ticked off first!
I have got this allocation. How allocations are distributed or how water is shared in New South Wales, and it is a great paper; it is seven pages. Everyone should read it. If everyone understood how water is allocated in New South Wales, they would think, you have got it right, because if there is no water in the storages, you do not get any allocation. But, you know what, all the environmental allocations get ticked off first. Now people do not understand this, even media. The media try to get their head around it and try to portray it to the broader public and it is very difficult, but it is such a simple document. No-one has really tried and I think if you understand the environment, run the river—South Australia gets looked after, as a general security allocation entitlement holder, before we even get one megalitre. If I may have the liberty, the way our allocations are worked out, they are very simple and spelled out very plainly.
What we need is for every irrigator, every person in rural communities to be able to access what water is available every day. Instead of waiting at times when water allocations are so important—we get allocation announcements every fortnight, they should be able to get on their computer and say, New South Wales got this much. Because we know how it is all shared, we can work out exactly what we get. And we have spent enormous amounts of money putting in telemetry meters along the river system, so there is no reason why we cannot have an up-to-date allocation announcement. We are not relying on someone to make the call, because we have got this and we have got a note when we know how much usage—the job should be made a lot easier. I think that would be really good. You got more than what you wanted. Sorry.
Mr Papps rings all the time saying, “Where can we put water? We’ve got water. We need to put water somewhere.”
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Do you think the debate got too polarized in relation to it just being about the environment as opposed to the whole system?
Mr MAY: Definitely. But there was always this balance: “Don’t worry, we’re going to have a balance.” The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has come out and said, “David, I’ve got to give the most importance to the environment because that is the way the Act is structured.” We are in a situation down here. I am on the Wakool River as well. Parts of the Wakool are the old Murray. That is how old the system is. It is a perfect fish breeding area. It is regarded as the lungs and heart of fish breeding in the Murray-Darling Basin. Mr Papps rings all the time saying, “Where can we put water? We’ve got water. We need to put water somewhere.”
…when we were putting the plan together there was going to be some balance, and they forgot about the productivity- communities – people….. Now it is politics. Now it is a political plan. It is so frustrating.
It is important that we stress upon these people that in that scenario it works fine but when we were putting the plan together there was going to be some balance and they forgot about the productivity. They forgot about our area losing half their entitlements. They forgot about our communities losing enormous amounts of people. They forgot about our schools losing people. They forgot about these services. Yet they try to justify it. It is amazing. You put facts and figures in front of them about what is happening in the community. The 450 is a great example, this up water. There was supposed to be no third party impacts. We have displayed that. Victoria has displayed it. We are going to great lengths now—another consultancy. What is the point of us spending $100,000 to show something that they should be quite aware of, which they are aware of but they will dismiss it because they say, “That’s just natural attrition. That’s what was going to happen.” But the reality is these other reports have identified there is some third party impacts. Wouldn’t that be a way of just giving some credibility to the whole plan? But, no, they go to great lengths to try to keep it alive. Now it is politics. Now it is a political plan. It is so frustrating.