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Basin fight heats up

Thursday, 15th December, 2011

By Paula Doran

The stoush over the long-term economic impact of the Murray Darling-Basin Authority (MDBA) Plan is intensifying, with major lobby groups ramping up their arguments on just who will be hit hardest.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has called on the Federal Government to ensure greater investment in infrastructure and water efficiency to compensate farmers for what they describe as the biggest challenge to country Australia yet, but the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) claims the Plan will  promote job growth.

The NFF said one-third of agriculture in the Basin would be hurt by the proposed water cuts. It claims agriculture will be the biggest loser and could drop $1.6 billion in annual earnings basin-wide.

“The Government has two options,” said NFF president, Jock Laurie. “It can reduce water through improved infrastructure and water efficiency measures for farms and communities, or buy water back out of the agricultural production system.  

“If they choose the latter, this would equal a reduction in food and fibre production of around $1.6 billion, at the exact time that Australia’s farm output needs to grow in order to meet the growing needs of the population.”

But the ACF claims socioeconomic modelling done by scientific researchers, including the CSIRO, shows widespread economic benefits from a healthy river system.

“Despite some of the alarmist comments, the impact of reform of the river system will have a small and manageable economic impact on communities in the Basin,” said Simon O’Connor from the ACF.

Mr O’Connor cites the MDBA’s proposed reforms as reducing total agricultural production by 0.81 per cent.  

“The modelling estimates that by 2018/2019 the output of the Basin will be $78.5 billion instead of $79.3 billion without the Basin Plan, compared to $64 billion today.”

He said comprehensive jobs modelling estimated an annual net job loss of 200 jobs until 2019, amid job growth in other areas within the Basin.

“No-one is denying some communities will be harder hit and will require an additional package of support measures. However, the detailed studies are all clear that these are the exception in the Basin, not the rule,” Mr O’Connor said.

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