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National Irrigator's Council - Media Release

27 October 2022

Minister Plibersek has confirmed water buybacks are part of the undisclosed ‘significant funds’ allocated to finalising the Basin Plan in this week’s Federal Budget.
NIC CEO Isaac Jeffrey said: “The Minister has confirmed Canberra’s worst kept secret that the Government intends to enter the water market and buyback water used to grow our food and fibre – which will lead to increases in the cost of living for all Australians.
“Irrigators grow our fruit, nuts, vegetables, grapes, sugar, dairy, cotton and rice. These products fill our kids’ lunchboxes. They are served to our families around the dining table and at the local restaurant. They dress and wrap our wounds, and clothe and protect us from the elements. And, they provide jobs and economic returns for our nation.
“Buybacks have devastating impacts on communities, but they will also drive up the cost of living. Buybacks mean less water is available, which will force the price of water up. Higher water costs will mean higher production costs. Fewer irrigators in the system will mean higher fixed costs for infrastructure, but also other goods as markets and competition shrinks. Those costs will be passed on down the line until Aussie consumers have to pay for them at the checkout. Buybacks will lead to higher food and fibre prices right at a time when inflation is high and global recession is on the cards. Australian families can’t afford another hit to their weekly grocery bills.
“The ‘significant funds’ allocated in the Budget have already caused alarm in regional communities as people remember the last time Government intervened in the market, sending water prices through the roof, while farmers had to watch their neighbours close their businesses and let workers go – devastating local communities.
“It’s not just farms which are at risk it’s: the local café and newsagent, and the local car dealer and equipment hire place which will all have fewer clients; the local schools and hospitals whose funding is linked to population which will decrease as people leave town; the local food manufacturing business which now has to source goods from other areas or from overseas which destroys their buy local business model; and it’s the local school student looking to start a career in the region who now has to leave town for work.
“It will have similar effects on trade. Our international trading partners may look for cheaper products elsewhere. It will also mean less food and fibre is grown, so there will be less to sell. When other export markets are looking at a limited future, our nation can’t afford to cut our agricultural exports. Extreme weather will lead to more, not less, demands on our food systems. We should be looking to grow our irrigated agriculture sector, not only for Australia’s food security, but so we can play a global role in helping feed others as they too face climate and weather extremes into the future.
“The Government should abandon its buybacks plan and look to other options, such as complementary measures, to achieve environmental outcomes, rather than ripping more water, money and jobs out of regional communities. We are proposing a number of alternatives, including infrastructure investment and partnerships with irrigation schemes to achieve environmental outcomes and we are urging the Government to deliver these projects instead of buybacks. NIC supports the Plan and supports completing the Plan, but it must not sacrifice industry, jobs and economy in the process. There are better ways to achieve the Plan and it starts with focusing on the outcomes.”
Media Contact: Isaac Jeffrey 0407 083 890 [email protected]