8 October 2010

The Australian Council of Social Service welcomed the release of the Guide to the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

“ACOSS has welcomed the Authority’s recognition of an urgent need to undertake comprehensive assessments of the potential social and economic impacts of its proposals,” said ACOSS Acting CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

“We welcome its recommendation for an examination of options to assist industries to improve water efficiency, to exit, or to shift to higher-value forms of production.

“The proposals contained in the Guide weigh the needs of the river system itself with the needs of communities. The health of the river is inextricably linked to the prosperity of people in towns from Charleville to Murray Bridge. These transitions may be difficult but if we don’t begin we risk irreversible damage.”

Parliament recognised in 2007 that levels of water diversion were unsustainable and threatened the viability of agriculture, industry, community. The Guide, published today by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, proposes options to address imbalances in a complex river system that is home to one in ten Australians and produces 40% of our food.

“Communities affected by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan must be given the resources they need to consider and plan for new futures,” said Dr Boyd-Caine.

“There should be thorough engagement with affected communities to explore the ‘non-irrigation’ potentials of the Basin’s future. This is about more than just the water – there are whole communities that will be affected, and they need assistance to review options and make transitions.

“Steps should be taken to fund and facilitate community-wide evaluation and planning, and to fund and facilitate investment in the physical and social infrastructure communities will need for the future. We need to take particular interest and care with low income and disadvantaged families and at-risk communities.

“Nearly $9 billion of government funds is currently available to assist water reform, providing a once in a generation opportunity that should not be missed. At least some of these funds should be used to help communities assess the impacts of proposals and to plan and implement ways to thrive and prosper”.

The Authority will conduct an extensive round of consultation on the Guide and then, early next year, on the proposed Plan. The Plan is to be finalised by the end of 2011. Successful implementation will then depend on state governments and their water resource plans.

Media Contact: Evan Mistilis, ACOSS 0419 626 155