River in Crisis, Farmers in Crisis, Food Bowl in Crisis
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has called on the Prime Minister to intervene as the National Party 'big irrigator, big money' policies destroy the Murray-Darling River system, harm our farmers and damage Australia’s food production diversity.
"Testimony from Federal Government officials at Friday's water Estimates and media reporting over the weekend have highlighted the destructive pathway the National Party's policies are sending Australia down," said Senator Patrick. "The National Party, who control Australia's water and agricultural portfolios, simply don't appreciate the damage they are doing, now and into the future".
Over-extraction of water in the Northern Basin by 'big cotton' has seen water supplies to a number of northern NSW townships dry up, and the drying up of the Darling River, which has resulted in the Menindee fish kills and no water flowing into the Murray River to meet South Australia’s water entitlement under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.
"The National Party's 'big irrigator, big money' policies have caused devastation in the north,” Senator Patrick said, “and they promise to do more of the same throughout he remainder of the river system.”
As water dries up in the north 'big cotton' is shifting to the Murrumbidgee River, funded by Government programs, drawing on supplementary flows that would also otherwise flow into the Murray River to meet SA water entitlement under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.
"The National Party's 'big irrigator, big money' policies are now causing reduced flows out of the Murrumbidgee into the Murray".
With no flows from the Darling River and limited flows from the Murrumbidgee, the Southern Riverina is bearing all the load in meeting SA water entitlements and the supply of water to big almond farms in the Sunraysia food bowl region of north-west Victoria. Large flows through the Barmah Choke to meet the load has, as was seen on 60 Minutes last night, caused significant ecological damage to the Bamah-Millewa forest.
"And all the while, smaller farmers across southern NSW and northern Victoria watch water flow past their properties that they simply can't afford," said Senator Patrick. "The National Party have set up a system where the big guys win and the everyday farmers lose".
"The National Party policy is that water must flow to then highest value use. This ultimately means the family farmer misses out and, eventually, the majority produce in the Murray Darling will be cotton and almonds. Dairy farmers are already in dangerous decline. Farmers growing other crops will follow".
Asked at Senate Estimates if this approach was truly in the national interest, National's Minister Matt Canavan responded "I'll be very clear that the Government's firm view is that the best people to judge the use of a scarce resource, or a scarce agricultural resource in this case, is the farmer".
Senator Patrick challenged this statement saying, "I put it to you Minister that the farmer will know what's in the best interests of the farmer, but do you seriously think that a farmer, when planting a crop, has done the analysis as to what's in the national interest?". The Minister just didn't get it.
Senator Patrick rebutted, "I put it to you, I stood on the Murray in Victoria on a farm with an average Joe Blow farmer who was watching water flow past but couldn't afford it, and he's going to go under". The Minister indicated the Government would continue down the path it is heading.
"They just don't get it", said Senator Patrick. “The Murray is in crisis, farmers are in crisis and our national food bowl make-up is being adversely skewed to only a very few highest value crops produced by large agri-businesses, a significant number of them foreign owned. The Prime Minister must intervene."