A series of community profiles that claim the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is just one of a number of factors contributing to socio-economic change has been branded as an attempt to ‘‘water down’’ the issue.
Released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority last week, the profiles were compiled using the latest Australia Bureau of Statistics data, alongside water recovery data, for 45 Southern Basin communities.
Basin authority chief executive Phillip Glyde said the research showed the basin plan was only one of many factors that fed into social and economic changes during the past 15 years.
He said many of the basin-reliant communities experienced similar socioeconomic trends, regardless of the amount of water recovered.
‘‘We are seeing some communities showing significant decreases in employment in agriculture, although there has been only a very small net amount of water recovery; while others remain comparatively resilient, despite significant volumes of water recovery,’’ Mr Glyde said.
‘‘This indicates that not only is the basin plan just one of a number of factors behind social and economic change, but in many communities it may not be the most significant factor.
‘‘These community profiles are an important input to our examination of the socio-economic effects of the basin plan, however, they do not yet capture the full story, and need to be interpreted with care.’’
The findings were released a week after the Senate rejected changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, when the Greens successfully convinced federal Labor to block a motion to reduce the amount of water returned to the environment.
The NSW Government has said it was prepared to withdraw from the plan, and the Victorian Government has also threatened to pull out.
The basin authority’s analysis found the total water recovered in the communities up to November 2016 topped 1033.9 Gl, with 183.6 Gl taken from the Shepparton, Kyabram-Tatura and Cobram communities.
The research found that population across all towns had increased, but the agricultural workforce declined.
In Benalla, which had limited irrigation production and no basin plan water recovery, there was a reported increase across the total area workforce, including the agricultural, private and government sectors.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said claims the basin plan was only one driver in socio-economic activity was ‘‘a simplistic way of looking at a dynamic situation’’.
‘‘The report, commissioned by the MDBA and completed by KPMG, like the Ernst and Young report before it, seems to have the pretence of justifying actions that they seem intent on taking,’’ Mr Birrell said.
‘‘It’s critical to look at what future water losses will do to our industries and our economy.
‘‘The MDBA would do much better to do that, than trying to cherry pick examples from their own reports that suits their purpose.’’
Mr Birrell said a significant amount of water had already been removed from the Goulburn Valley region, and that there was a fundamental lack of leadership when it came to the plan.
‘‘There is a political battle on to remove more, and I think, until we understand what the full implications are, shouldn’t we be pausing everything?’’ Mr Birrell said.
‘‘We need to understand the risk that certain industries will face, and the communities that are most reliant on the dairy industry are the ones that stand to lose the most when it comes to future water recovery.’’
The basin authority plans to release detailed reports in April to better understand the socio-economic impacts of water recovery.