“It would be like ordering a beer at a pub, but getting an empty glass and you still have to pay for it.”
That’s how fifth generation farmer Stephen Brooks from Barooga on the NSW-Victorian border describes what the Federal Government’s Murray-Darling Basin plan is doing.
If you were in a pub in Melbourne or Sydney, this wouldn’t be acceptable. People would be up in arms! And no doubt the pub would be forced to start pouring beers properly or face the consequences.
But in this case, it’s not beer that’s at stake. It’s farmers’ livelihoods and it’s Australian-grown food on the table feeding Australian families.
So if you’ve decided to ignore the mess that is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan thus far, listen up. Right now.
About 1500 protestors converged on the town of Tocumwal just over the Victorian border in NSW calling for Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to be sacked, among other things.
Their fight is for water – irrigators, farmers, local business owners all fighting for water from the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin accounts for more than 40 per cent of all Australian farms â the area has been called the “food bowl” of Australia.Â The Darling, Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers all flow through the Basin and we have this region’s communities to thank for wool, cotton, barley, oats, wheat, dairy products, rice, fruit and vegetables, sheep and cattle.
Protesters carried signs, sending a strong message highlighting what this all about:
“NO WATER â I HOPE YOU TRUST IMPORTED BABY FORMULA”
“NO WATER, NO FARMERS, NO FOOD, NO FUTURE. PAUSE THE BASIN PLAN.”
Clearly, these farmers are in trouble and they have been for years, many barely keeping afloat, many walking off the land they’ve worked for generations.
The region’s water is going elsewhere, due to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which was passed in 2012 by the Gillard Labor government. The Federal government spruiked the plan as “a major step forward in Australian water reform, balancing environmental, social and economic considerations by setting water use to an environmentally sustainable level”.
In effect, the government introduced limits to the amount of water that can be taken from these crucial rivers for agricultural purposes. In doing so, the Commonwealth has taken 1/3 of water for what they term ‘environmental objectives’.
Ultimately, this has led to drastic implications when it comes to water supplies and affordability for farmers.Â Despite the fact that irrigators have paid for water, the plan has meant they’ve endured two consecutive years of 0 per cent water allocation. Zero.
“The plan has driven some farmers to suicideâ¦” Brooks explains.Â
“The dairy industry has disappeared in areas like Deniliquin. Milk production in Victoria is down around 25 per cent, the rice and potato industry has all but been killed off.”
According to Brooks, if this plan continues, the risk is that farmers continue walking off the land and we start relying on food products from overseas. And he tells me this is already happening: “In this year of 0 per cent water allocations, we’ve imported a cargo of Canadian wheat and I don’t think Australians would feel comfortable with that.”
Brooks’ message to Australians is this: “The question is whether you’re comfortable importing milk or bread… or dairy? Cos that’s what happens when you take away water.”
On a local level, the impact is devastating with farmers taking their lives and family businesses’ struggling to survive.Â On a nationwide level, all the essential agricultural products these farmers supply are depleted and will continue to be so.
That’s why we should all care and listen to these farmers. Their own lives are at stake, as are so many critical products this country relies on.
A Tocumwal resident explains it simply: “â¦most people think their food comes from a supermarket shelf. The message has to get to the bigger population areas so people have an understanding of â¦how this could ultimately affect them by having to consume food from China.”
Politicians have the power to change farmers’ lives.
Australians have the power to call out the ones who don’t care.
Â© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019