The Shadow Minister for Water Security, Energy & Minerals Resources, Mitch Williams MP, has called on governments to act on water management and stop ‘talking’ around the issue.
“Arguments about the management of the River Murray system was one of the issues delaying Federation, more than 100 years ago, and those arguments are still going on. We need action, not talk,” Mr Williams told delegates at the First National Commercial and Rural Conference, “Grow Your Footprint”, held at the InterContinental in Adelaide recently.
Mr Williams has spent most of his 14 years in parliament working hard on water issues.
“I got involved in the 1990’s when we started licensing water – and in South Australia it is still not resolved. Every bore in the South East of South Australia has had a meter since 2006, but we still have not moved from area based to volumetric licensing,” Mr Williams said.
“Around 80% of South Australians rely on the water in the Murray Darling system to live, work and eat and with the price of water only expected to increase, this will put undue pressure on many hard working families, especially in rural areas.
“Farmers in my electorate, for example, are paying up to $100,000 per annum for water which may well see livestock farming become unprofitable, resulting in higher food prices and ultimately becoming an issue for all of us.”
First National Real Estate Chief Executive, Ray Ellis said if farmers were to exit the areas as a result of farming becoming unprofitable, the impact on property prices would be detrimental.
“Farms are crucial to the very life-blood of a rural community. Take away that livelihood, and the flow-on effect would be to rural property prices,” Mr Ellis said.
According to Mr Williams, governments have been working since Federation to control the Murray with locks, dams and barrages, and have changed it forever. “At a COAG meeting in 1994, we separated water and land titles so we could use water for higher economic purpose, but that separation still has not happened in Queensland,” Mr Williams said.
“In 1995, the states agreed they would take no more water out of the river, but significantly, even more water has been allocated and ground water licenses have been issued in NSW, right next to the river, and the states have been in denial that this would affect river flows.
“Water is stopped before it even gets into the river, through flood plain harvesting, and the rights of people further down the stream have been taken completely away.”
Mr Williams said the river was critical to production and the rural communities along its banks that rely on it.
“Country towns throughout the state depend on the irrigation generated by the river. A holistic approach is required; one which considers the issues of communities further upstream and downstream and where a mutual understanding of the issues for each other can be reached,” Mr Williams said.
“We have missed many opportunities to do something about this. The drought concentrated the ideas of the Australian people and then Howard offered $6 billion to build new infrastructure to use less water with projects like subsoil irrigation which can double productivity or halve water usage.
“Hardly any of that money has been spent. Rudd also promised the same in 2007 saying it was a priority but four years later nothing has changed.
“We are still waiting for outcomes from the Murray Darling Basin Authority and we are all just hoping they get it right.
Mr Williams outlined for the conference delegates a few of the competing interests that need to be considered in managing our water resources including increasing water costs being paid by water consumers.
“Our dilemma is more about the management of our water resources rather than a scarcity of water.
“In the city of Adelaide the annual consumption of water is approximately 200 gigalitres. Currently approximately 160 gigalitres per year runs into the sea as stormwater from this urban environment. The technology has been proven to recover, clean up and reuse much of this water resource.
“There are vast aquifers beneath metropolitan Adelaide where such water could be stored for future use. Currently some metropolitan councils are doing just this providing water for parks and gardens and industrial use.
“Alternatively the Adelaide Desalination plant will provide the most expensive water in Adelaide, as a result of indecisiveness and inefficient business practices, the cost of which will be borne, once again, by the consumer.”
Mr Williams said water management will continue to pose a difficult problem for rural areas as long as governments continue to mull it over, instead of making a decision and taking action.
“Action is what we need now, not more talking. I think we need to stop being ‘precious’ with ourselves, and start doing something for our most precious resource.”
For further information contact National Communications Manager, Stewart Bunn on 1800 032 332