We held a town hall-style public meeting in Swan Hill on 22 February. You can see footage from that day below or head to the MDBA website to read a summary of the meeting [NOTE: Link removed as the content is no longer online].
Video: The draft Basin Plan – Swan Hill community meeting
[Title card: Murray-Darling Basin Authority. www.mdba.gov.au]
[Shot of truck on main road]
[Shots of giant Murray Cod statue outside venue]
>> CRAIG KNOWLES, after meeting: We’re well over the halfway point now and I think there’s a good feeling about this. There’s still plenty of criticism and people still have the same diametrically opposed views but I think there’s a growing realisation that a plan is essential, better than no plan – the no plan option really continues the uncertainty – and, you know, it was very good here today to hear people with very good and thoughtful contributions.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES, at roundtable: We get submissions, as you would now, about everything from stranded assets to the swiss cheese to the lack of a productive landscape. That’s why in part, I suspect, Burke suspended the buyback process in the southern system to try and further refine that and improve it.
>> ROSS STANTON: How are we going to manage the cost of this new industry that we are about to create? We see that managing water in any state, whether it’s environmental water or irrigators’ water, has a lot of cost involved with it.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: I think it’s critical that communities understand that water for the environment does have cost and it should be made more clear and transparent and that can only really happen in a market framework so people can make decisions as to whether it’s best to spend taxpayers’ money on this particular project or on something else.
>> WOMAN, irrigator: As an irrigator, I didn’t feel scared or concerned because I wasn’t being forced to sell my water. Now I’m also concerned. Okay, the draft Plan said we needed this much water [holds up her hands to demonstrate amount], we were going to give the environment this much water [moves hands to demonstrate majority of initial amount]. Now this Plan says we need this much water [moves hands to show an even smaller amount] so are we going to have this much outcome or is what you’re saying is that we’re going to do the same thing with less water?
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: The modelling that sat behind the Guide was not nearly as robust as the modelling that we’ve got. So we’ve been able to be more–
>> WOMAN, irrigator: So there’s new modelling?
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: Correct. It’s a more sophisticated level of modelling.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES, after meeting: There’s a cohesion in the communities about wanting to get something produced here that’s going to be resilient and will last over time. The purpose of these consultations is about trying to improve the work we’ve got in the public domain.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES, at public meeting: Is this for real, this consultation process? I can tell you I wouldn’t be travelling around the way I am if I didn’t treat it in a fair dinkum way.
>> PETER WALSH, Victorian Water Minister: At the end of the 20-week period, the Authority has a responsibility to report back to the Basin Ministers, of which I’m one, about all the community consultation right across the Basin and we have a chance to look to all that feedback as well and then go into whatever deliberations we have.
>> MARGARET HENTY, dairy farmer: If money is provided for increased irrigation efficiency on-farm, it is a win-win-win-win. It’s a win for the environment because the water is actually found and found quickly. It’s a win for the farmer himself because it’s an efficiency project and a better management project, so the farm operates better. It’s a win for the local community because all of that money has to be spent on local contractors.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: I agree with the statement that was made that if we take 30 per cent of the water out of this community, it will have damaging, severe, detrimental effects. I agree with that. I want to put that on record right now. That’s why – and, again, please look at our documentation – we have said to the governments, “Don’t do it that way”. Because we also know, on the other hand, if there’s an investment in infrastructure, further investment in on-farm efficiencies and systems improvements and environmental works and measures, the savings that we’re trying to achieve here can be achieved without those volumes taken out.
>> NEIL MACFARLANE, Mid-Murray Field Naturalists chairman: People are complaining that the Plan has not accounted for the last couple of years of good in-flow into the system. Well, the last two years are just another blip in the long history of variability in systems flow. It is the long-term averages that count in that calculation.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: We have adopted 114 years of climate record and hydrological flow records, since 1896 I think is the date, all of which is very publicly incorporated into our documentation and is highly consistent with the methods that all water managers have used for a very long time.
>> WOMAN, irrigator: My understanding of the Plan is also that it works on key sites and icon sites or the like. Where does that leave other local forests or all the other little bits of forest that are around the place? When do they get water?
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: We think that there should be a real opportunity, like fair dinkum opportunities, not just tokenism but fair dinkum opportunities for communities to take a stronger lead in the management of water.
>> MAN, asking question: If we decide that we can’t sustain the costs of water, are we going to be able to implement in Victoria or in parts of Victoria, independent farmer-operated water organisations like the two that you’ve got in Berrigan in New South Wales.
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: I think there should always be space for local groups. What we’ve done though is create space in the Act for such groups to exist.
>> MAX FEHRIG, GANNAWARRA MAYOR, after meeting: I’m one that’s been a little bit critical because it’s taken so long to get it organised but in the last two days we’ve gone through a lot of consultation pretty well. When the Plan comes in, I would like to think that the two major parties got together and had some very good discussion about saying, “Let’s agree with the principle of this Plan but let’s make sure every step we take is fully consulted with the community, both at the state and a local level, to make sure the implementation sets out and achieves the best we possibly can.”
>> CRAIG KNOWLES: I think the opportunity here for Australia is to create a model of water management that for whatever purpose water is used for it’s used in its most valued and best, most efficient way. But, having said that, I think what has changed during the formal process of the public consultation is a growing awareness of the need, the essential need, for a plan to be put in place. People want certainty. People want to move on. People want to actually get into the doing of this rather than the talking about what it might look like.
[CLOSING CARD 2: Produced by: Chris Hammer, Ethos CRS Consulting]