Farmers accuse Tony Burke of agriculture ignorance

Farmers are furious about the former Water Minister’s comments on the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying they show a fundamental misunderstanding of life on the land.

Labor MP Tony Burke, who oversaw the implementation of the basin plan under the Rudd/Gillard governments, threatened to tie the amount of water to be reclaimed from farmers to controversial “upwater” measures.

The basin plan has been under attack from Riverina irrigators for a decade amid concerns it put the environment ahead of social and economic concerns.

Even before the plan has been completed, it has stripped billions of litres of productive water from farmers and impacted heavily on basin communities.

Murrami irrigator Deb Buller was frustrated by the notion that farmers and the environment were at odds.

“People like Tony Burke think what we do in the Riverina is somehow separate from the environment – like the environment doesn’t exist where we live,” Mrs Buller said. “It’s the biggest load of nonsense, there are thousands more birds on our farm than in the national parks. Birds don’t care where they land, they don’t fly over my rice crop and ask if it’s a protected wetland.”

In a speech to Parliament earlier this week, Mr Burke said Labor would force an amendment to the Water Act if Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce didn’t back down from his comments that an extra 450GL couldn’t be removed from the basin without impacting communities.

Member for Murray Adrian Piccoli said it highlighted how out of touch Labor were with agriculture.

“The water that’s been recovered so far cannot be delivered without causing substantial flood damage along the way,” Mr Piccoli said. “The crazies in the environmental lobby measure the success of environmental policy by the pain it causes farmers, not what’s good for growing trees or breeding birds.”

National Farmers’ Federation vice president Les Gordon said as the Water Minister who negotiated the basin plan, Mr Burke knew “only too well that the additional 450GL upwater in the plan can only be recovered where this will have neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes”.

“The evidence presented to date by the NSW and Victorian Governments is yet to demonstrate that this neutral or improved test can be met,” Mr Gordon said.