To: Senate Select Committee Inquiring into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Murray-Darling Basin Plan Inquiry

Date : 23 September 2015

The Environmental Farmers Network (EFN) is supportive of  the Murray Darling Basin Plan and believes the Plan should be delivered as intended and on time. EFN offers the following comments as per the Select Committees terms of reference. Our comments reflect strongly our experiences in the Goulburn Valley; however believe they reflect our member’s experiences across the basin as a whole.
The implementation of the plan, including: its progress  
The implementation of the Basin Plan appears to be progressing as laid out in the Act. 
Basin Plan costs, especially those related to further implementation
The cost of the Basin Plan and its implementation has potentially been compromised by the decision to cap the direct purchase of water entitlements. Whilst this has been politically motivated it is none the less a legitimate decision, but with potential cost overruns for the implementation of the Plan in full.
Direct and indirect effects on agricultural industries, local businesses and community wellbeing. 
The direct and indirect effects of the Basin Plan on agricultural industries, local businesses and community wellbeing cannot be identified in isolation of water reforms, commodity markets, currency valuations and many other factors that includes climate change. For instance Water Reforms were designed to free up water to enable true value of this finite resource to be captured for communities and the Nation. This single action meant that water would move from commodity to commodity, from region to region and from local community to local community. In any community, examples of change are evident, however the constants are: water is now being utilized on those crops providing the greatest return to both the producer and the nation; irrigation of marginal soils has been reduced; and, irrigation has expanded into prime soil types that had previously been excluded from irrigation. For example we have seen the expansion of the cotton industry which is replacing other less profitable segments of existing primary industries in the Southern Basin.                    
At the same time, there has been unprecedented growth in the dairy industry in the Goulburn Valley with Pactum Dairy Group’s new Shepparton $45m UHT milk facility and planned $18m expansion. Another high profile example is Gerry Harvey’s recent $80m entry to the dairy farming sector and Murray Goulburn’s successful ASX listing with $500m capital raising.
The water market is working well, as designed, and has both opened up flexibility in on farm management and contributed greatly to the expansion of high value agricultural production and the economic outputs of the Basin.
Evidence of environmental changes to date
The Goulburn and Broken Rivers are in an improved state, in particular with water quality, in stream natural vegetation, recovery fish breeding events and recreational fishing. Migration and spawning of Murray cod and golden perch depends on increased flows in spring, a vital role of environmental flows in the lower Goulburn  River and Broken Creek.  Monitoring has shown environmental flow releases in the lower Goulburn River triggered hundreds of Golden perch (Yellow belly) to spawn from Murchison to the Murray.
The effectiveness and appropriateness of the plan‘s Constraints Management Strategy, 
The whole point of environmental flows is achieve out of channel flows onto the lower floodplain to link this environment with the river, deposit silt, promote fish breeding and reinvigorate the rivers ecological health. The MDBA’s Constraint Management Strategy appears to be progressing well in the Goulburn system with excellent community consultation identifying constraints and options to mitigate the identified risks, environmental water flows and river channel capacity. This work has now been taken over by the State Government in the development of a business case for implementation.
Other related matters.
The role of the NWC was critical in monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of the Basin Plan. It is important that this work be carried on by the Productivity Commission.

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