Cotton Australia has joined with other peak farming and irrigation bodies in condemning a new Bill tabled in federal parliament today to amend the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Cotton Australia’s General Manager Michael Murray said the Water Amendment (restoring our rivers) Bill 2023 will cost not just rural and regional communities, those who benefit directly from farm activities, but will be felt by every Australian.

“I’m not sure Minister Plibersek truly grasps the impact of this bill and what water buybacks will do to the agricultural sector, and the small businesses, many of them family farms, that help feed and clothe Australians.

“I am also very concerned that all the alternatives to buybacks, submitted to the government for consideration by farming and irrigation bodies at their invitation, have apparently been ignored.

“I urge all politicians to vote against this bill. If passed, this legislation has the potential to severely impact our nation and reduce our capacity to supply Australian food and fibre markets and harm our export markets as well,” Mr Murray said.

The National Farmers Federation’s Chief Executive Tony Mahar said the proposal would blow up the Basin Plan and destroy trust and livelihoods in Basin communities.

“Successive governments have managed to maintain a fragile consensus on the Basin Plan across party lines and between the states and territories. This Bill will blow up that consensus for a cheap political win.

“The Plan that was brokered a decade ago included clear limits on the harm that could be inflicted on Basin towns. Government ministers stood in these communities and made promises about those limits.

“Farming communities went along with the Plan and suffered the pain of buybacks based on those promises. Now this bill seeks to tear them up.”

National Irrigators Council Chair Jeremy Morton said: “The Minister’s new Basin Plan will cost Australian’s and won’t fix the environment”.

“The Plan provides more time to complete complex projects and suggest new ideas as requested by the Basin States and supported by NIC but in doing so, removes key protections for regional communities and industries that were designed to limit the socio-economic impacts of the Plan.

“This new Plan, if agreed by Parliament, will create a giant hole in Australia’s economy, reducing jobs on farms, in our Basin communities and at our ports and processing plants, which will cost Australians and risk our future food security.

NSW Irrigators Council CEO Claire Miller said buybacks were not allowed towards the extra 450 GL promised to South Australia in 2012, because the then Water Minister said the rule was no downsides to recovering that water, and buybacks had downsides.

“The new Basin Plan is very far from the spirit and the law of the 2012 Plan. It allows open slather on buybacks and will inevitably add to cost of living pressures as farmers struggle to maintain production with less water, Ms Miller said.

“The new Basin Plan is solely about delivering an election promise to South Australia. So as the nation grapples with a cost-of-living crisis, the Government is effectively asking consumers to foot the bill to shore up seats in Adelaide,” Ms Miller said.