Ag sector lashes unbalanced ABC water report

Australia’s agriculture industry has united in outrage over an ABC 4Corners program which painted an unbalanced and inaccurate picture of the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s management.

4Corners sought to discredit the plan’s irrigation efficiency program, which supported farmers to improve their water use efficiency, grow more and ultimately return more water to the environment.

The National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF) President Fiona Simson said the efficiency program, which has now concluded, required farmers to release portions of water to the Government (the river system) in exchange for funds to invest in infrastructure such as better dams and more sophisticated irrigation pivots.

However, 4Corners failed to give adequate weight to such details and instead portrayed farmers as cashing-in on taxpayer’s money for their own self-interest.

“Reckless and ill-informed reporting such as that aired on Monday night, that picks and chooses facts, has the potential to be incredibly damaging for not only farmers, but communities and the environment,” Ms Simson said.

The episode included 13 spokes people, 12 of which were critical of the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s irrigation efficiency program. The many hundreds of family farmers who are supportive of the program or community members, who have benefited, were not represented.

In addition, the NFF nor any of its member organisations, of whom this issue impacts, were invited to take part in a recorded interview of the program.

“At no stage did the episode attempt to explain how the Basin Plan has recovered 2100GL of water for the environment, with just under 700GL coming from irrigation efficiency and infrastructure projects,” Cotton Australia’s General Manager Michael Murray said.

“The idea propagated by 4Corners that irrigators are ‘using more water’ by taking up water efficiency schemes is false. The only way an irrigator can acquire more water is if they buy a licence that allows them access to more water from the existing water licence pool.”

“There also wasn’t any effort to highlight the economic stimulus communities have received from the programs, rather than the economic devastation straight ‘buybacks’ have afflicted on many Basin communities.

National Irrigators Council’s CEO Steve Whan reiterated the community benefits of the program.

“Irrigators make absolutely no apology for wanting to ensure country towns and our farmers have a future.”

Mr Whan said farmers supported robust accountability.

“We expect Government to ensure that funds are spent appropriately, we support full transparency of expenditure and rigorous audit.

“The Basin Plan is the world’s most ambitious environmental plan for a river system. It will be difficult, but it is made even harder if each side sees it as a winner takes all struggle, rather than a plan that, inevitably, involves compromise.”

The industry are determined to set the record straight and stand up to unbalanced and ill-informed reporting.

“We simply won’t let representations like that 4Corners episode go unchallenged. We will call out unbalanced and poor journalism and set the record straight for our farmers, our communities and ultimately the environment,” Ms Simson said.



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