Communities affected by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan must be given the resources they need to consider and plan for new futures, according to the Australian Council of Social Service.

“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,” said ACOSS Acting CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

“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.

“There should be thorough engagement with affected communities to explore the ‘non-irrigation’ aspects of the Basin’s future.

“It is imperative the Federal Government acts now to seed hope amongst communities by providing them with the means to consider and build new futures that incorporate both sustainable irrigation and new economic activity.

“Nearly $9 billion of government funds are 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 plan and implement ways to thrive and prosper.”

Dr Boyd-Caine said that ACOSS was concerned communities could now find themselves divided between those who have some rights to compensation and those who are left to simply cope with the consequences of change.

“The issues currently confronting the Murray Darling present genuine challenges for all members of local Basin communities, not only irrigators,” Dr Boyd-Caine said.

“There are many excellent examples of efforts to support communities faced with similar crises to maintain or re-invent themselves. These exist both within Australia and overseas and could serve as valuable models for the project we envisage.

“For example, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has proposed a model for working with communities that we believe would achieve outcomes that appropriately engage and balance the full range of interests.”

ACOSS media contact: Evan Mistilis 0419 626 155. ACOSS will be attending the lock-up briefing, and spokespeople are available to comment.