Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the Basin

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) welcomes the opportunity to provide comment to the Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the Basin.

Northern Victoria is the Foodbowl of Australia producing much of the nation’s food and exports. Northern Victoria alone produces:

  • 25% of the Nation’s milk with 9 major milk processing factories and over 8000 jobs on farm and in processing
  • 90% of Australia’s pears
  • 81% Australia’s dried fruit
  • 15% Australia’s citrus production
  • 75% Australia’s table grape production
  • 40% of Australia’s apples
  • 40% of Australia’s stonefruit
  • 68% of Australia’s almonds
  • 99% of Australia’s tomatoes for processing
  • Significant cropping and livestock

This agricultural production is being badly impacted by the implementation of the Basin Plan.

While the VFF welcomes comments by the Independent Panel stating:

“water reform is a bundle of many reforms – some delivered wins to irrigators and other water users and to the broader community. But significant transfers of wealth and opportunity across industries and regions have taken place – some communities have watched jobs dwindle away, communities decline, and in some cases nearly disappear …

We heard from people living in the Basin who have a deep distrust in governments – local, state and federal. They feel abandoned by all levels of Government” (Pg viii)

Use of Language on Basin Plan: 

The VFF believe the Panel need to be more explicit in their discussion about the impacts of the Basin Plan. Much of the language throughout the report bundles the term ‘water reform’, rather than calling out the key impacts and problems with the Basin Plan. 

The VFF believe the Panel’s Terms of Reference (ToR) requires the Panel to be explicit about the impacts of the Basin Plan. The ToR states: 

“The review will assess (positive and negative) of water reforms including the Basin Plan”. 

The Panel often fails to describe the details of the ‘water reforms’ they are discussing and there are many water reforms in the National Water Initiative that have not been implemented. 

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendation 1: That the Independent Panel explicitly document the impacts of the Basin Plan, rather than grouping commentary of impacts under the catch all of ‘water reform’.

Recommendation 2: That the Independent Panel recommend that the recovery of the 450 GL of upwater does not proceed based on existing evidence of the socio-economic impacts and deliverability constraints they have provided.

Recommendation 3: That the Independent Panel amend its position on water buybacks consistent with the evidence they have provided and recommend that buybacks should no longer be pursued in the Southern Basin due to the regional socio-economic costs.

Recommendation 4: That the Independent Panel clarify its support for addressing deliverability issues during the irrigation season and opposition to relaxing constraints to provide over bank environmental flows in the spring in response to the widespread community opposition, third party impacts and negative socio-economic impacts.

Recommendation 5: That the Panel provides a clear statement about what elements of the Basin Plan should continue to be implemented with its reasons and tangible evidence that effective adjustment measures can be implemented to offset the socioeconomic impacts it has identified.

Recommendation 6: The Panel expand the focus of river health to include physical form, streamside zone, water quality and aquatic life of our river system.

Recommendation 7: The Panel explicitly describe the negative impacts associated with on- farm projects.

Recommendation 8: The Panel review draft finding 29 and acknowledge the adaption of farmers through off-farm projects. acknowledge the negative impacts associated with on- farm projects.

Recommendation 9: The Panel review draft finding 11 and acknowledge the implementation of the Basin Plan is increasing water prices.

Recommendation 10: The Panel recommend the Basin Plan be completed in 2026 at which time it is substantially amended to only focus on compliance beyond 2026.