Opposition concerns over the impacts of Australia's water reform

13:45, October 09, 2010      

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Australian Federal Opposition on Saturday said regional towns deserve to know exactly how plans to restore the health of the Murray Darling river system will impact on them.

After decades of over-allocation of water licenses, and almost 10 years of drought, the the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) on Friday released a guide on how the basin's 19 catchments need to be managed to balance environmental and economic needs. The report recommended an overall cut of up to 37 percent across the basin including groundwater collection, and some catchment areas will face much higher cuts of up to 45 percent.

The report has predicted that, if implemented, the reductions in water allocations may result in between losses of at least 800 million dollars (787 million U.S. dollars) a year to irrigated agriculture production, 800 job losses and significant social impacts.

Federal Minister for Water Tony Burke told ABC1's Lateline that extensive consultations will now take place to draw up a final plan on the Murray Darling river by late next year.

"We now go to catchment by catchment discussions. There will be different answers in each of them and the authority's mindful of that," Burke said on Saturday

"From all the talks; the reports that've come back to me from the briefings that've happened, they're ready to engage on that."

According to Australia Associated Press, billed by some as the biggest change to water management in Australia since the Snowy hydro scheme, the plan has already ignited anger from some communities which fear the cuts will decimate their towns if producers sell their water allocations and move away.

The Opposition said it has real concerns about the guide released on Friday.

Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said there is no detail about how the plan will impact on individual regions and towns.

"There is a real paucity of information behind it. No detail for individual regions, no detail for individual towns, no answers as to what it's actually going to mean to people town by town throughout the Murray-Darling basin region,"Birmingham told ABC News on Saturday.

He said he wants to see a proper social and economic analysis done.

"There's an awful lot more information that we need to see," he said.

And water spokesman Barnaby Joyce said the estimation of 800 job losses is rubbish.

"It really shows a complete lack of understanding about the economics of the area," he said.

Meanwhile, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has urged all parties to support the recommendations, saying the figures are based on the absolute minimum needed to save the river system.

"We need to make sure we work really hard to get these reforms up, don't allow them to be watered down," she said. "If we don't, the system is not going to survive, and that's the reality."

Source: Xinhua


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