The first priority over the last few weeks has been to secure targeted assistance and roll
out support to help farmers with their most pressing needs.
At the same time, we remain focused on the big picture – especially when it comes to water. It won’t be enough to help farmers get over this hurdle if
their businesses later fall over because water is too scarce and expensive to stay milking in seasons to come.
We can’t control the weather. The recent rains are a welcome reprieve, but to make a substantial difference to the bleak outlook on water allocations for
next season it will need to keep raining heavily in the catchments over the next few months..
So while we watch the skies, our priority remains achieving long-term objectives on what can be controlled. Environmental water trading, the Murray Darling
Basin Plan and the Connections reset all have an important bearing on whether enough water will be available when farmers need it and at a price they
can afford in 2016/17 and beyond.
We are advocating for State and Federal Government commitments to assist our industry by making more water available next season. Potential untapped sources
include trade in northern Victorian allocations to urban centres such as Melbourne, as well as a share of the environmental water held in Victorian
and Commonwealth accounts.
The amendments to the Federal Water Act last month mean that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) now has more flexibility to trade water
it may not need. As of 31 March, the CEWH still had just over 300 GL in storage; while it has no plans to trade in 2016-17 at this stage, this may
change as part of environmental planning now underway.
We also remain focused on the Connections reset. The announcement that only $388 million is left to deliver more than 100 GL savings was unwelcome news
at a time when farmers already have so much on their plates. Now more than ever, we must get this reset right to provide sustainable infrastructure
for a resilient dairy industry.
Once the election is over, we will be back in Canberra to keep the pressure on the elected party to achieve the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s environmental
outcomes without removing any more water from irrigated agriculture.
State and Commonwealth Governments have an in-principle agreement to deliver the full 650GL in environmental offsets, and undertake more robust socio-economic
assessment before any attempt to achieve more than the 2750 GL target. We are holding them to all of these commitments.