The lack of action to support the region’s drought-stricken farmers has been strongly criticised by the new regional local government group.
Chairperson of the Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation (RAMJO) Cr Kevin Mack has expressed “extreme displeasure and disappointment” at the Federal and State Governments and the region’s Members of Parliament.
He says they must do more to help drought-stricken farmers in desperate need of irrigation water to finish off crops and grow desperately needed fodder for starving stock elsewhere in northern New South Wales and Queensland.
Cr Mack said RAMJO is deeply concerned that irrigators still have zero General Security water availability in the NSW Murray region, despite high storage levels in Dartmouth and Hume Dams, and is also concerned with very low allocations for the Murrumbidgee and Lower Lachlan catchment areas. At the same time, South Australian counterparts are at 100% allocation.
To make the situation even worse, while there is so little water for food and fodder production, huge volumes are flowing out to sea and a further 1,000 gigalitres is almost certainly going to again evaporate in the Lower Lakes over the forthcoming summer period.
“This is a totally unacceptable situation,” Cr Mack said. “And worse still, the representations that the Executive Officer and I have made to the Premier, Deputy Premier, State Ministers and Local Members for environmental water to be made available at concessional water prices for genuine farmers in our irrigation areas, to finish off their crops and to grow more food and fodder during these extreme drought conditions, have fallen on deaf ears and have been to no avail. This is a totally unacceptable situation and both the Federal and State Governments need to be brought to account.
“We can see no reason why the Federal Government cannot permit the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to make available surplus environmental water for farm production purposes on grounds of extreme emergency, nor why the NSW Government cannot make available more of its environmental water to local farmers under strict sale conditions that will ensure more food and fodder is grown.
“In NSW the Minister for Environment, through the Office of Environment and Heritage, is making available a total of only 15,000 megalitres of surplus to needs environmental water, which is to be spread across five river catchments throughout the State.
“The obvious problem with this announcement is that the amount of water on offer is totally inadequate and it is being offered through water traders on an unrestricted basis and at current water market prices. It is quite likely this water will be purchased by large corporations which have the ability to pay top dollar, rather than those farmers who genuinely have the desire, capacity and willingness to produce food and fodder to help communities survive this horrendous drought,” Cr Mack said.
He added RAMJO is aware that Murray Irrigation Limited based in Deniliquin is doing all it can to make some emergency water available to its customers in the short term, and its actions are to be applauded. However, we need to see more urgent action taken at the Government level.
Cr Mack added: “I would have thought that the results of the Wagga Wagga by-election last Saturday clearly demonstrated that this State Government is out of touch with regional areas and in particular with the existing crisis situation from a drought and water availability perspective. The Government obviously doesn’t have the capacity or the political will to get right what can be quite simple solutions.
“Councils and communities in RAMJO are therefore calling upon our State Members for the Albury Electorate Greg Aplin and for the Murray Electorate Austin Evans, as well as our Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, to urgently and strongly advocate on behalf of the region’s communities, particularly having regard to the early 2019 elections which are scheduled to take place at both Commonwealth and State levels.”
RAMJO was legislated in recent months by the NSW Government as the peak regional body to engage collaboratively with both levels of Governments, and in particular the NSW Government, in matters of key strategic importance for its 11 Member Councils, their communities, farmers, businesses and residents across the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lower Lachlan valleys.
It believes water security and availability for production, industries, towns and tourism is certainly a key strategic priority for the entire RAMJO region.
For media enquiries, please contact Cr Kevin Mack on 0412 483 388 or Ray Stubbs on 0408 498 534
Member Councils – Albury, Berrigan, Carrathool, Edward River, Federation, Griffith, Hay, Leeton, Murray River, Murrumbidgee and Narrandera