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We’re not Russia

Tuesday, 5th February, 2019

By Craig Brealey

The Federal Water Minister tore out of the box yesterday to rip into a proposal to ban cotton exports, and immediately got lost.

David Littleproud, who is also the Minister for Agriculture, declared the ban a “terrible idea” and said that irrigators also lacked water.

“The Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie districts near Menindee are all on zero general allocation for irrigation this year,” he said in a press statement.

Near? That would put Sydney in the vicinity of Melbourne.

Mr Littleproud also accused the Centre Alliance party, which is proposing the ban, of adopting Communist methods.

“The Government telling farm businesses what decisions to make ends farmer freedom. We’re not Russia,” he said.

An unfortunate comparison: Russia destroyed the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea, by diverting its rivers for the cultivation of crops, including cotton.

But Mr Littleproud said that banning cotton exports would not help the Murray-Darling system. Nor, by extension, would the Menindee Lakes get any water.

“First, this idea will not deliver any extra water to the river,” he said.

“Farmers have bought a certain amount of water and in a year of reasonable rainfall, they still get to use that water to grow something, whether it’s rice or crops or cattle.

“If farmer Joe has 100 megalitres he normally uses to grow cotton and you make cotton unviable, he just uses that water to grow a different crop. Further, farmers only get to use their water in years of good rainfall.” 

“Recent modelling”, said the minister, also showed that the 70 gigalitres taken from the river and given to cotton farmers last year would not have helped the Darling either because only seven gigs would have made it to Menindee.

“The river system is not like a pipe which delivers every drop to the other end,” said Mr Littleproud.

Not the best choice of word, pipe: All the trouble out here began when the Anabranch river was put into a pipe for the benefit of the Tandou cotton farm. The NSW Government is now proposing to do the same to the lower Darling.

Nonetheless, the Minister managed to raise a few reasonable points.

“There are 1009 farmers in Australia growing cotton, and cotton export is a $2.1 billion industry employing 10,000 regional Australians in a good year.

“Some 90 per cent of our cotton is grown for export, so this plan would end the industry.

“Cotton is the highest value crop for farmers to grow in most of these areas. Effectively stopping farmers growing the most valuable crop just reduces farm viability and means less jobs.

“Banning the export of any particular crop likely breaches our World Trade Organisation obligations. Australia is a nation of 25 million growing enough food for 75 million people - we need trade.”

But then he gets carried away at the end with a statement about fish.

“This (ban) idea might mean the media gets a headline but it won’t help the Basin, the fish or the farmers one bit.”

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