Senator John Madigan.SENATOR John Madigan says irrigators feel betrayed, angry and tired, and farmers are walking off the land due to tightening water restrictions under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Victorian independent Senator continued his campaign to highlight the current mood in irrigation communities during a stern 20-minute Senate speech last week.

On his tour of Basin communities earlier this month Senator Madigan asked stakeholders about the Basin Plan’s impacts on agricultural production and community issues.

He said the Plan was “a matter of national importance” that “impacts our ability to feed ourselves”.

“It goes to the heart of our rural and regional communities, not to mention our capital cities,” he said.

“It does not discriminate. It affects all Australians in one way or another. But you will not see much reporting on this in the major national media and you will not hear this matter discussed around kitchen tables in our cities.”

The Basin covers 14 per cent of Australia’s landmass, and is home to more than 2 million people throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, with an estimated 72 per cent of Australia’s total area of irrigated crops and pastures.

According to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), the region contains 40 per cent of Australia’s farms. The value of its irrigated output is nearly $7 billion. Cotton, fruit, grapes, vegetables, rice and pasture for meat and dairy production are the main types of irrigated agriculture activities in the Basin.

“It is one of the most important food and fibre regions in this country,” Senator Madigan said.

“One message is clear: the Basin is vitally important to Australia. What happens there matters to each and every one of us.”

Senator Madigan is pushing for a Senate inquiry into the Basin Plan but said in Canberra the issue was now “under the radar”.

“Done and dusted, most people would say,” he said. “Nothing to see here. In the words of the new Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, the government is committed to delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full by 2019.”

Senator Madigan travelled more than 3000 kilometres stopping at Albury-Wodonga, Deniliquin, Barham, Koondrook, Robinvale, Mildura and Yea.

He toured farms and facilities and attended four meetings – two open to the public – involving food producers and local residents who “wanted to be heard”. He spoke directly with several hundred people and returned to Canberra with “some clear and unambiguous messages about our water resources”.

“My first message is this: the rage that burned across the region five years ago when the MDBA released its first draft water buyback policy has not died down,” he said.

“It continues. People are exhausted in the Basin. They feel betrayed.”

Senator Madigan said some people were leaving the agricultural industry because of concerns over the Plan’s impacts – despite having survived floods, fluctuating commodity prices, an ever-changing agricultural climate and other traumas.

“They feel tricked by an unaccountable bureaucracy hell-bent, they say, on an unmeasurable environmental imperative”“They are fed up with talking to politicians who give them ‘blah, blah, blah’ in return,” he said.

“They are fed up inputting to the MDBA at so-called community consultation sessions – they say it is like talking to a bloody vacuum.

“Right across the Murray-Darling Basin, a considerable number of Australians feel betrayed by successive governments of all persuasions.

“They feel tricked by an unaccountable bureaucracy hell-bent, they say, on an unmeasurable environmental imperative.”

Senator Madigan said he was told by people on the ground that the Basin Plan was having the opposite effect of its intention and was in fact “harming our environment”.

He said people also expressed concern about the foundation science used by MDBA in developing the plan.

“They say any claimed environmental benefits are not properly measured or assessed. They say the plan’s environmental, social and economic benefits are skewed. People come last.”

Senator Madigan also claimed people in the Basin are “incredulous at the wanton spending of money for no apparent social, economic or environmental benefit”.

“They say the social and economic costs are enormous and far-reaching and they say our farming sector is being destroyed,” he said.

“They tell me the so-called Plan is not addressing a triple bottom line.

“I have not even begun to mention the deliberate man-made flooding and the so-called constraints management strategy.

“We all know the devastation of a flood from nature, but (in this Plan) we have people who deliberately want to flood people and flood land.”

Senator Madigan said Basin communities say they want the Basin Plan paused for at least five years and support his Senate inquiry proposal.

“They tell me the economic and social costs will far exceed the $12 billion-plus price spent already,” he said.

“Prime Minister, I implore you to listen to the people of the Murray-Darling Basin. Let the facts speak for themselves, then act.”

Senator Madigan also accused the MDBA of not being independent of politics “despite its claims” and being “committed to reconfiguring Australia’s food bowl in order to plan for a one-in-100-year drought scenario”.

“People in the Basin are tired, they are depressed, and some of them are leaving,” he said.

“But, above all, they are angry at what is being done in the name of the environment by this unaccountable administration.”

However, an MDBA spokeswoman said the Authority operated independently and with transparency, exposing all of its work and decisions to the public, the Basin governments and the science community.

The spokeswoman also said the MDBA and its predecessors have been managing the river system for nearly 100 years.

“The majority of the $12.5 billion for national water reform – not just the Basin Plan – has been spent on water efficient infrastructure and other programs to benefit farmers and communities,” a statement said.

“The MDBA offered Senator Madigan the opportunity to meet with the new MDBA chair Neil Andrew over a week ago to discuss Basin Plan implementation matters.

“We are waiting for a response as to when that might occur.”

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