Drought and climate change are driving high water prices in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Conversation By Neal Hughes

22 JULY 2019

The receding waters of Lake Pamamaroo

PHOTO: The receding waters of Lake Pamamaroo, in western NSW, in February 2019. Reduced water supply, due to lower rainfall and higher temperatures, has been the main cause of increasing water prices. (AAP: Dean Lewins)

EXTERNAL LINK: The Murray-Darling Basin scandal: economists have seen it coming for decades

EXTERNAL LINK: Droughts, extreme weather and empowered consumers mean tough choices for farmers

Water prices in the southern Murray-Darling Basin have reached their highest levels since the worst of the Millennium drought more than a decade ago.

These high water prices are causing much anxiety in the region, and have led the Federal Government to call on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to hold an inquiry into the water market.

Inevitably, whenever an important good becomes more expensive — be it housing, electricity or water — there is a rush to identify potential causes and culprits. In the past few years, high water prices have been blamed on foreign investorscorporate speculatorsstate government water-sharing rulesnew almond plantings and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

While some of these factors have had an effect on the market, they are in many ways a distraction from the simpler truth: that high water prices have mostly been caused by a lack of rain.

Supply drives the market

a drawing showing the river catchments in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

INFOGRAPHIC: The boundary of the Murray–Darling Basin, including the boundaries of the northern and southern basins (Supplied: Murray-Darling Basin Authority)

Market reforms in the 1980s and 1990s enabled water trading in many parts of Australia. By far the most active market exists in the southern Murray-Darling basin, which covers the Murray River and its tributaries in northern Victoria, southern New South Wales and eastern South Australia.

The market allows users — mostly irrigation farmers — to trade their water allocations (effectively shares of water in the rivers’ major dams).

This trading helps ensure limited water supplies go to the farmers who value them the most, which can be crucial in times of drought.

Historical data shows the main driver of water market prices in the southern basin is change in water supply.

The following chart shows storage volumes (in orange) and water prices (in red) in the southern basin since 2006.

Prices peaked at the height of the Millennium drought in 2007. During the floods of 2011, they fell near zero. Prices have increased again during the latest drought, and are now at their highest levels in a decade.


INFOGRAPHIC: Water allocation prices and storage volumes in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. State government trade registers. BOM, Ruralco Water, ABARES estimates. (Source: BOM, Ruralco Water, ABARES estimates.)

Lower rainfall, higher temperatures

While water prices have always been higher in dry years and lower in wet, we have been getting a lot more dry years in recent decades.

Over the past 20 years, rainfall, run-off and stream flow in the southern basin has been far less than historical conditions.

The below chart shows modelled flow data for the Murray River, assuming historical weather conditions and no water extraction, over the past century. It shows that average water flows this century are about 40per cent below the average of the 20th century.

INFOGRAPHIC: Modelled ‘without-development’ annual Murray River flow, 1900 to 2018. (Source: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.)

We know these reductions are at least partly related to climate change, driven by both reduced winter rainfall and higher temperatures.

Lower rainfall and higher temperatures also make crops thirstier, increasing demand for irrigation water.

This was evident in January, when temperatures exceeded 35℃ for 14 days and irrigators’ demand for water spiked from about 4.5 gigalitres to 7 gigalitres a day.

The basin plan in perspective

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan seeks to improve the environmental health of the river system by recovering water rights from irrigation farmers.

To date, more than 1,700 gigalitres of water rights — about 20 per cent of annual water supply — have been recovered in the southern basin.

By reducing supply, water recovery was always expected to increase water prices.

However, the effects of water recovery on supply — while significant — are still small relative to the effects of climate over the same period, as shown in the below chart.

INFOGRAPHIC: Water allocation use in the southern basin with and without water recovery. (Source: State government agencies, Department of Agriculture, ABARES estimates.)

Measuring the precise effect of water recovery on prices is difficult. Water buybacks are straightforward and have been modelled by ABARES and others. But the effects of infrastructure programs — where farmers return a portion of their water rights in exchange for funding to upgrade infrastructure — are harder to estimate.

‘Carryover’ rule changes

Historically farmers had to use water allocations within a 12-month window. The introduction of “carryover” — most recently in Victoria in 2008 — means users can now hold their unused water in dams.

This rule change was a good thing, as it encourages farmers to conserve water and build up a buffer against drought.

But it might also have contributed to anxiety about the water market’s operations.

Since water allocations can be bought and held for multiple years, information about future conditions can have a big effect on prices now.

For example, we see large jumps in price following news of worse-than-expected supply forecasts. This may have helped fuel concern about “speculators”.

Over the longer-term, the ability to store water helps to “smooth” water prices, with slightly higher prices in most years offset by much lower prices in drought years.

Again this is a good thing, but it may have added to the perception of higher prices in the market.

Water demand is rising

When a profitable new irrigation activity is willing to pay more for water — as is the case with almond farms in the southern basin — competition for limited supplies can potentially drive up prices.

ABARES’ research shows that between 2003 and 2016 there was little change in irrigation demand (aside from that linked to rainfall).

Growth in demand from expanding activities such as almonds and cotton was offset by reductions in others including dairy, rice and wine grapes.

However, there is evidence since 2016 that demand for water has started to increase, contributing to higher water prices. Longer-term projections suggest this trend may continue.

With drought and climate change reducing water supply, and demand for both environmental and irrigation water increasing, high water prices are only likely to become more common in the basin in future.

Neal Hughes is Senior Economist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-22/drought-and-climate-change-are-driving-high-water-prices-in-the/11329502






A team of scientists are going to do an aerial survey (in September) to try and locate new water supplies across drought-stricken NSW … but there’s more … it’s about finding ‘mineral deposits’ …

Will this present a problem for landholders in our regions due to Compulsory Acquisition and Land Amalgamation legislation?


CAAN Update on Compulsory Acquisition Laws … S71A added to the existing Legislation


So, it has begun … the legalised theft of people’s homes (substitute properties?) to enable more development … Office of Strategic Lands

More about the Office of Strategic Lands and the power of the Planning Ministerial Corporation! 




NSW drought prompts aerial search for new water reserves

A team of scientists will take to the air in a bid to try and locate new water supplies across drought-stricken NSW.

The three-month aerial survey will look at ways to help farmers maintain their land and cattle.

Linda Silmalis, The Sunday Telegraph

|July 14, 2019

VIDEO: Loaded: 73.22%Current Time 1:04/Duration 2:56FullscreenNOW PLAYING

The Australia drought: Bringing pain to local communities2:56

The drought in Australia is killing fish, wildlife as well as communities. Falling tourism, declining population and job…

One of the most ambitious aerial surveys conducted in the state is set to begin in the hope of locating new water supplies for drought-stricken farmers.

Scouring an area around 17,000sq km in size, a team of scientists will take to the air where electromagnetic technology will be deployed to identify undiscovered regional water supplies up to 200m underground.

The three-month survey, to be conducted between Bourke and Lake Cargelligo in western NSW from late September, is part of a joint arrangement ­between Geoscience Australia and Geological Survey of NSW to urgently find new ­resources for the state.

Scientists will conduct a three-month aerial search for water in parts of country NSW. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Scientists will conduct a three-month aerial search for water in parts of country NSW. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

The survey will also be looking for mineral deposits.

Nationals leader John Barilaro said identification of both water and potential new mineral deposits was critical for the wellbeing of the state, ­especially the bush.

“Much of regional NSW is struggling through one of the worst droughts on record and this survey is critical in helping to identify previously undiscovered water reserves,” he said.

“That’s why the government is taking part in this ­important initiative which will provide new information about the geology, metal ­potential and groundwater ­resources of these areas.

“Securing regional jobs is a high priority. The minerals ­industry supports thousands of jobs that support the wellbeing of our regions.”

The project is being ­supported by the $200 million MinEx Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), a collaboration between the Federal, State and Territory governments, the CSIRO, Australian universities and the minerals industry.

The Centre, described as the world’s largest mineral ­exploration collaboration, was set up to address the need for mineral resources to meet ­future demand.

With few new mineral deposits exposed at the surface ­remaining to be found in Australia, the Centre is working to discover hidden potential new resources.

The drought has had a severe impact on country NSW. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
The drought has had a severe impact on country NSW. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

The government is counting on the survey to also find desperately needed new water supplies with the technology able to identify below-surface reserves.

Geological Survey of NSW Geophysics and Modelling manager, Dr Ned Stolz, said the technology was able to identify conductive materials such as copper, lead and zinc as well as water.

“We fix a transmitter to a small plane or helicopter which emits a weak electromagnetic signal,” he said.

“That signal can pick up everything from highly conductive to nonconductive ­materials, allowing us to create a kind of underground map down to around 200m.”

Geological Survey of NSW, a major participant in the MinEx CRC National Drilling Initiative, has committed $16 million over 10 years towards the project.

Government figures show the new mineral industries of platinum, cobalt and lithium, for which demand is rapidly ­increasing, paid $1.8 billion in royalties to the state last financial year and also generated thousands of jobs.

SOURCE: https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/nsw-drought-prompts-aerial-search-for-new-water-reserves/news-story/5942bca112ed91f4e5a649ec2ed3e564?utm_source=DailyTelegraph&utm_campaign=EditorialSF&utm_content=SocialFlow&utm_medium=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR123iDW4xidTM5eC3F4ZQQOeul1eKwAxuacX1UkyKUEevO5M8QLUlqEYLs






-Australian National University hydrologists Dr John Williams and Dr Quentin Grafton are calling for an urgent audit of water use in the Murray–Darling Basin

.echoed this week by some of those who were involved in early moves towards a basin plan, decades ago

-in their detailed analysis they calculated the scheme is likely to be returning 70 gigalitres not 70 billion litres a year to the environment

-the scheme is already 2.5 times more expensive than buying back irrigators’ water entitlements directly

-they refer to ‘a dearth of publicly available information‘ about the water in the Murray-Darling

-the governmnent acknowledges it has paid higher than market prices for water entitlements with prices pushed beyond the reach of small farmers

-in the late ’80s, the then Murray–Darling Basin Commission put huge effort into keeping the basin communities engaged

.through ‘Special Forever‘, a groundbreaking student stewardship program; they brought communities onside!

resourcing for ‘Special Forever’ was wound back under the HOWARD GOVERNMENT and the program eventually closed

NEWS As attempts to restore water to the river basin fail to meet their targets, scientists warn irrigator subsidies may cost 10 times initial estimates. By Karen Middleton.

Karen Middleton 
is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.


*The federal government’s subsidies to restore water to the Murray–Darling river system have fallen dramatically short of their yearly target, recovering less than 3 per cent of what was anticipated by the end of the financial year.

Department of Agriculture figures on efficiency gains suggest that of the government’s forecast 62 gigalitres to be recovered by June 30 this year, only 1.3 gigalitres have been achieved.

*The Saturday Paper has confirmed the timing of the federal election delayed the adoption of some proposed projects, which the states and territories are responsible for putting forward.

*If approved when ministers next meet in August, two pending projects, believed to be from Victoria and the ACT, are likely to cut the deficit by about half.

But a further 30 gigalitres will still need to be found for last year’s target to be met.

The shortfall follows warnings from two of Australia’s most respected water scientists that the government’s irrigation efficiency scheme is already costing taxpayers up to 10 times more per million litres saved than first estimated.

*Australian National University hydrologists Dr John Williams and Dr Quentin Grafton have calculated what they argue is the cost of the government’s contentious scheme to pay irrigators to be more efficient in Australia’s most important river basin, which is struggling to survive the impacts of climate change and overuse.

*They are calling for an urgent audit of water use in the Murray–Darling Basin, echoed this week by some of those who were involved in early moves towards a basin plan, decades ago.

*In a detailed analysis of the subsidy scheme published in March, Williams and Grafton calculated the scheme is likely to be recovering and returning about 70 gigalitres – 70 billion litres – a year to the environment in the Murray–Darling Basin. Not the 700 gigalitres the government has estimated.

Using a mid-point estimate – neither the best-case scenario, nor the worst – the scientists say, “… the actual average cost of increasing stream and river flows per [megalitre] would be 10 times more expensive than is estimated by the Australian Government”.

Under the subsidy scheme, the government has spent about $4 billion – of an earmarked $8 billionpaying basin irrigators to make improvements on their properties, such as building dams to capture runoff and lining channels to reduce seepage. The irrigators are then required to surrender entitlement to some of the water they save, typically 50 per cent, so it’s left for the environment rather than extracted for use.

The discrepancy between the two sets of figures comes in how much water each estimates returns to the environment naturally through irrigation – known as return flows – and how much is flowing as a direct result of the efficiency programs and surrender of entitlements.

The government’s estimate was based on an assumption that infrastructure improvements wouldn’t actually save any water: that the change in return flows would be zero.

Williams and Grafton say the government’s method allows for a kind of phantom count. It counts as savings water that used to leak back to the environment but doesn’t anymore because there will be less natural flow once seepage is reduced.

The scientists suggest the government estimate – that the scheme is costing about $5000 for every million litres, or megalitre, returned to the river system – is out by a factor of 10. They say it is more likely to cost about $50,000.


Their paper “Missing in action: possible effects of water recovery on stream and river flows in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia” was published in the Australasian Journal of Water Resources. The journal ensured the work was peer-reviewed in several countries and its methodology endorsed.

A spokesman for the Murray–Darling Basin Authority said that while return flows needed to be monitored and better understood, “generally we’re on track”.

Williams and Grafton disagree.

“We readily acknowledge there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the actual effect on return flows from increases in irrigation efficiency in the MDB [Murray–Darling Basin],” reads their paper, but reductions in return flows from less leaky channels “have not been accounted for”.

*Williams and Grafton say the scheme is already 2.5 times more expensive than the alternative preferred by them and others, which involves buying back irrigators’ water entitlements directly.

While there have been some buybacks, the government favours the subsidies.

Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said subsidies protected rural jobs while water buybacks decimated communities.

“Taxpayer-funded water efficiency projects help farmers grow more with less water and return water to the river system,” Littleproud said in a statement. “This way, the river, the farmer and the community all win.”

*The buyback option would likely reduce the amount of water-intensive farming in the basin over time.

Under the subsidy scheme, as ABC TV’s Four Corners reported this week, irrigators are being paid to undertake infrastructure improvements that, in some cases, they would have made anyway. Having increased their production efficiency, some are now choosing to expand operations, buying water from other existing licences. Those irrigators argue that means the expansion is contributing to the economy without increasing water use.

Some critics of the basin plan argue there is already too much water allocated to farming and industry – an allocation the South Australian royal commission on the basin plan was told last year was not based on the best science – and that the river is suffering.

John Williams said the lack of accurate information on the subsidy scheme – and water use overall – could distort the water market.

He said if the river system were a corporation, the failure to scrutinise it would not be acceptable.

“You can have a set of accounts for a company but until you actually have an audit of them, you can’t know the health of the company,” he said.

The government has acknowledged it has paid higher than market prices for the water entitlements being surrendered under the efficiency scheme.

Some basin producers say prices are being pushed beyond the reach of small farmers, putting more pressure on the system.

Critics also point to the kind of farming being allowed, involving not just water-intensive seasonal crops, such as cotton, which are replanted – or not – each year, but also permanent plantings of citrus and nuts, which require large volumes of water regardless.

The National Irrigators’ Council’s chief executive, Steve Whan, disputes the assumptions made by Williams and Grafton and their findings, suggesting theirs is “quite a narrow opinion” and their estimate of return flows to the river is “just unrealistic”.

“The reality of the basin plan is that nobody particularly likes it and that probably means it’s about right,” Whan told The Saturday Paper.

“We live in a democracy. It was a negotiation. We didn’t get what we wanted out of the plan but it’s the only thing that gives any measure of certainty.”

Williams and Grafton criticise what they call “a dearth of publicly available information” about the water in the Murray–Darling.

Their concern reflects an intergenerational failure in the quest for a successful management plan, reaching back decades.

*First Nations peoples managed the system skilfully for thousands of years, but work towards a formal bureaucratic management system began soon after Federation.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Fraser and Hawke governments took steps to forge an intergovernmental agreement, and federal parliament passed the River Murray Waters Amendment Act in 1983.

During that debate, former shadow environment minister David Connolly, who represented the safe Liberal seat of Bradfield, on Sydney’s north shore, spoke passionately about what was happening to the Murray–Darling and what should be done about it.

Connolly observed that “self-interest and parochialism” had been a problem in the basin since well before Federation.

So concerned was Connolly by the state of things that he led a group of opposition MPs on a tour through communities from Albury to Adelaide, which he believes was the first parliamentary delegation to travel the river route.

Connolly was particularly impressed by the local people’s commitment to the river system. He said they were watching “year by year, a gradual deterioration in its capacity”.

“There is a very deep-seated concern for the long-term viability of the Murray system,” he told parliament on August 24, 1983.

In 1996, Connolly retired to a farm outside Canberra, where he still lives. He is no less passionate about the river system, though saddened by its current state.

“I don’t think the situation has improved markedly, despite the huge amount of money that has obviously been spent,” the former Liberal MP told The Saturday Paper.

The fundamental problem that we had back then, that we clearly have today, is there simply is not enough water to meet both the socioeconomic needs and the environmental needs.”

In 1985, the federal government reached what it called “an historic breakthrough” with NSW, Victoria and South Australia on river management, announcing a decision “to shelve parochial interests and adopt a co-operative approach to better management of the basin”.

The communiqué lists among key issues the need for “new institutional structures” to better co-ordinate intergovernmental action, and “the need for effective community participation in the resolution of the water, land and environmental problems of the basin”.

Thirty-four years on, poor community engagement is being cited as a key reason that an agreement on a detailed basin plan stalled for so long.

*In the late ’80s, the then Murray–Darling Basin Commission put huge effort into keeping the basin communities engaged.

The commission established Special Forever, a groundbreaking student stewardship program, run by 1200 teacher volunteers and engaging 38,000 children in protecting and preserving the river and its wildlife. The program’s manager, David Eastburn, was also the head of the commission’s communications unit.

*“At times we were dealing with quite angry people,” Eastburn told The Saturday Paper this week, referring to the anxieties around future livelihoods. “But we’d be around there making the videos, getting to know them, giving them a fish poster for their grandkids. We could often answer their questions on the spot … and because we returned to communities fairly often, they would come onside.”

*Eastburn said resourcing for Special Forever was wound back under the Howard government and the program eventually closed.*

Likewise, early efforts to make the wider basin community part of the preservation process waned.

Eastburn said once “technocrats” took over the basin commission, resources were diverted and community relationship-building effectively stopped.

“They didn’t want the pain of dealing with the community,” he said.

“They didn’t involve the community as authentic partners, as originally promised. The government didn’t have the human or financial resources, the authority or anything. They can’t force the people to do it unless they were onside.”

The current Murray–Darling Basin Authority has a unit handling consultations and defends the extent of its engagement with stakeholders.

But a government-commissioned study of the irrigation efficiency measures by EY consultants published in January last year reported “a general lack of clarity as to measures and objectives, no common language and an absence of trust”.

*“Stakeholders are experiencing fatigue from multiple consultation streams and have expressed a desire to discuss Basin Plan issues on a holistic basis and for deeper two-way engagement,” said the EY report. “To move forward there is a need to better engage with community and industry leaders, build greater trust and develop a social licence.”

The consultants said there should be a greater focus on “centrally collecting information and data specifically relating to water efficiency measures”.

“This is required to better understand the socioeconomic impacts of water efficiency measures, the economics of participation, the associated value for money implications and risks in achieving the program within the required statutory budget,” said their report.

It acknowledged “elements” of the Basin Plan had had an impact but that it had been “positive and negative”.

According to the report, the government’s objective of recovering 450 gigalitres to the river by 2024 can be met, provided its recommendations are followed.

*The ANU scientists query that – and whether it will be enough to restore the river to health.

*Their call for accurate data is a common theme among those with a stake in the future of the river.

“I totally agree,” David Connolly told The Saturday Paper. “That’s what we said in ’83.”

Steve Whan of the Irrigators’ Council concurs.

“We do need more work and we do need more water accounting,” he said.

Along the mighty Murray–Darling, it’s the only bit of common ground. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 13, 2019 as “Murray–Darling recovery in peril”. Subscribe here.








LINK FOR PHOTOS: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-09/murray-darling-basin-water-plan-whats-next/11290060

Cash Splash

Posted Mon 8 Jul 2019Expires: Tuesday 4 June 4757 8:31pmShare

Taxpayer dollars, secretive deals and the lucrative business of water.

“It’s a national scandal.” Water economist

Two years on from the Four Corners investigation into water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin that sparked a royal commission, the program returns to the river system to investigate new concerns about how the plan to rescue it is being carried out.

“How extravagant is this scheme?… I’d just call it a rort.” Lawyer

On Monday Four Corners investigates whether the contentious plan has become a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a triple bottom line fail. It’s a fail for communities, it’s a fail for the economy and it’s absolutely a fail for the environment.” Business owner

The river system is the lifeblood of Australian agriculture but right now it’s in crisis. It’s experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, and with mass fish deaths capturing the headlines and farmers struggling to survive, many are saying the scheme is failing to deliver.

“I would characterise it as pink batts for farmers, or pink batts for earth movers. It all had to happen in a short space of time.” Contractor

Billions of taxpayers’ dollars are being poured into grants handed to irrigators in an attempt to save more water. Four Corners investigates exactly how the money is being spent.

“I’m a taxpayer. I don’t agree with the scheme. I think it’s actually too expensive.” Farmer

Some irrigators say this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform their businesses.

“With a bold initiative, having the basin plan and the government investing in irrigated agriculture, you get an opportunity to basically reset… for the next 50 years.” Irrigation CEO

Others question who is actually gaining the most from the generous scheme.

“We’re degrading the rivers at the same time as we’re handing out money to a few individuals to realise huge economic gains at public cost.” Ecologist

For those with access to water, there are lucrative sales to be made. Water prices have hit record highs turning it into liquid gold.

“Anyone can come in and buy water. You don’t even have to be a farmer…You’re going to make money out of it, and that’s what a lot of people are doing, unfortunately.” Farmer

Others worry that the scheme is encouraging the planting of crops even thirstier than cotton, creating a potential time bomb.

“There’s been an explosion in the production of nuts in the Murrumbidgee, and more broadly in the Murray-Darling Basin…This may well be a time bomb.” Former water official

Four Corners investigates how the scheme is being regulated and whether water users and the authorities responsible are being properly held to account.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on a scheme that many, many capable and reliable scientists have said, this isn’t going to work.” Lawyer

Cash Splash, reported by Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, goes to air on Monday 8th July at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 9th July at 1.00pm and Wednesday 10th at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.



Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Reporter: Water is one of Australia’s most precious commodities. 
But with water prices at an all-time high, Australia’s most extravagant water spending program is coming under fire.
John Kerrigan, Landforming Contractor: I would characterise it as pink batts for farmers, or pink batts for earth movers. 
Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: We’re talking about billions in taxpayers money on a scheme that many many capable and reliable scientists have said, this isn’t going to work.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The multi-billion-dollar plan to save Australia’s most threatened river system is being branded a failure and a farce by a growing band of critics.

Paul Pierotti, Griffith Business Chamber: The Murray Darling Basin Plan is a triple bottom line fail. It’s fail for communities, it’s fail for the economy and it’s absolutely fail for the environment. It has been the biggest waste of $13b in the history of Australia’s economy.

Prof Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW: We’re degrading the rivers at the same time as we’re handing out money to a few individuals to realise huge economic gains at public cost.

Dr Emma Carmody, Senior Solicitor, Environmental Defender’s Office: It’s almost worse than water theft because it’s the government and taxpayer money that’s being used to sanction this kind of behaviour.

Prof Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics, ANU: And that is a national scandal. 
Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Tonight on 4 Corners, we investigate whether Australia’s plan to rescue the Murray Darling River System has become a colossal waste of taxpayer money.. and ask how multi-million dollar subsidies have been secretly handed to big business.
In the town of Griffith, farmers are braving the bitter cold for the Riverina Field Day’s showstopper event.
Auctioneer: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We are only about five minutes away from starting the Wilks Water annual auction. It is a bit of a fresh day outside so we are pleased to see such a good crowd.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Hundreds are preparing for fierce competition at the annual public auction for water.

Auctioneer: Today isn’t a boxing match and no-one will fall out of the ring and fall into the front row so don’t be afraid to sit in the front row

Men in crowd: He’s defrosting. Look at his jacket! There’s steam coming off it.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The region is in drought and water is in high demand.

Auctioneer: We will have a few people on the phone I think also so don’t think they’re running you up.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Farmers like Julie Andreazza compete for water year-round against big corporations, investment banks and private traders.

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: They’re pushing the price of water up, because they’re not there to use that water for any purpose other than to gain profits. So they’re in there to get the best price. They’re like speculators, they’re in there just buying and selling, and they will sell to the highest bidder. Anyone can come in and buy water. You don’t even have to be a farmer. You just need to be able to put it into a water account and have the money to pay for it. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to grow food with it, or put it towards the environment. You’re going to make money out of it, and that’s what a lot of people are doing, unfortunately.

Auctioneer: Forty four hundred. Forty three fifty. Forty three hundred.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Bids are coming in from interstate and overseas.

Auctioneer: I’ve got phone bidder. I got phone bid I’ve got fifteen hundred dollar bid now. Phone bidder holds the money. Two thousand and fifty. Two thousand and fifty bid. You’re gonna miss it for a pineapple.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The sales are smashing records.

Auctioneer: I’ve got 7000 dollar bid now. I got 7000. You’re no good without it. I’ll take 50. I got 7000. Done at 7000, you miss it, you’re all done.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Griffith, in south-west New South Wales, is at the centre of the most productive farming valley in Australia. The farms rely on a network of channels and pipes delivering water from the Murrumbidgee River.

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: It was one of the, the first areas that was opened up as the, as the food bowl of Australia. A lot of the customers tell me all they need is a little bit of water in the soils out here and, and you can grow anything. We have up to about 3500 kilometres of channel systems within our, our main irrigation area. You know, that’s a huge, huge network of open channels and, and pipelines.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: Traditional rice, wine and citrus has been the crops of the past. Now we are venturing into cotton, um, nuts, like walnuts and almonds. They’re corporatized, they are looking at the security of the area, especially water security as the underpinned fact to come here.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The Andreazzas have been farming here for three generations and grow wheat for Arnotts biscuits.

Glen and Julie Andreazza are the New South Wales farmers of the year … awarded for making every drop of water count.

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: Not a water, a drop leaves the farm anymore, because we’re so efficient and we’re so careful with water. We used to be, call ourselves farmers. I think we’re business people now.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: In the Murrumbidgee Valley, along Australia’s fragile Murray Darling river system, farming is more competitive than ever.

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: Where there were probably 10 farmers in an area, there might be five, because farmers who can’t afford to stay in the business are having to sell out, either to their neighbours or to their friends or, or whoever’s got the money topo-, buy the land. So you might find one farmer owns four properties, whereas before you had four farmers, with one property each. You can’t survive on one farm.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Access to water has divided and enraged the community here since the introduction of a plan to save the Murray Darling River System almost a decade ago.

Man in crowd: Government couldn’t give a shit about what happens to us people here.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: In 2010, the farmers of Griffith were at the centre of the furious backlash to the plan to recover water from them for the rivers.

Man in crowd: Get in your friggin cars and get the fuck out of here now.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Julie and Glen Andreazza were among thousands at a meeting with the Murray Darling Basin Authority in Griffith. To save the 13-billion-dollar plan from going up in smoke, farmers were given a sweetener.

Man in crowd: Fuck the government.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Irrigators were offered more than five billion dollars in grants for infrastructure to reduce water going to waste on farms. The funds would pay for new irrigation systems, dams, earthworks…in return, for giving up a portion of their water rights.

Glen Andreazza, Farmer: The government were looking for water. The government wanted to come and buy back water, and people who were not willing to just give up water as a buy-back, the carrot was dangled. In that we could do, perform works and it just made it more palatable to people to do it. And people are going to do it. It was, it is a lucrative thing.

Prof. Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW: Ultimately it was a big political call to get the Murray-Darling basin plan over the line. In other words, if we were going to restore this system back to health and buy back water from irrigators, it’d have to be sold as a win-win.

David Papps, Fmr Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder: It has produced some real benefits for individual irrigators, big irrigators, some small irrigators, but it’s been very expensive, so the taxpayers have had to fork out a lot more money to get water from the environment than they should have.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: David Papps was in charge of returning water to the rivers recovered from farmers under the water infrastructure scheme.

David Papps, Fmr Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder: I certainly had quite strong concerns, that perhaps the volumes of water that were being attributed to the environment were not always as accurate as they should have been. In other words, that the accounting system was lacking transparency, and lacking rigour, and I think it’s one of the long-term problems that need to be addressed in the Basin.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: How extravagant would you say that this taxpayer spending scheme is?

Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: How extravagant is this scheme? Extravagant’s one word you could use. I’d just call it a rort. And I think I’m justified in calling it a rort or a scam, because it still hasn’t been disclosed to the public. What is the good, best available science behind this in terms of how much water we’re getting out of these schemes? When we don’t know what the science is in terms of how much water is actually being returned?

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The Andreazzas were among the first in Griffith to apply for a subsidy.
In return for giving up a portion of their water rights they received more than $100,000 for earthworks to reduce water run-off from their farm.
The value of the subsidy was about double the market price of the water.

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: Those works were things that we were going to always do anyway. But, obviously, cost was a problem, so we were going to do it down the track. But when this opportunity turned up for available funds to be used, well of course we jumped at it, so we did it.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: So the taxpayer was giving you money that you would’ve spent out of your pocket anyway?

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: Yes and it’s certainly increased the assets on our farm as far as infrastructure. We’ve got better land and better efficiency but there’s probably better ways that the government can spend that money to access water.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: So this was billions of dollars available across Australia. People must have been saying you beauty.

Glen Andreazza, Farmer: Oh a lot of people did and I guess they were using that as a bank I suppose.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Did the taxpayer pay value for money for the water here?

Glen Andreazza, Farmer: I think the, the- the price for the water was over-valued in my opinion. If you worked it properly it worked very, very well, so for the- for the person doing the works, I think it was, uh, a great benefit to them, but as far as a tax payer, which I’m a tax payer, I- I don’t agree with the scheme. I think it’s, I think it’s actually, um, too expensive.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: They later bought back the same volume of water that they’d surrendered for the grant… and got it on the market at a lower price. Over time, they increased their water use to expand their business.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Aren’t we paying for you to save water?

Julie Andreazza, Farmer: The fact is if we want to continue farming we then need to find more water to farm. So as much as we’re giving up that water, we can be more efficient, but if- if we need to grow more crops we then need to go and buy more water. When you buy water back, it depends on what the market is at the time, so if water’s at a low price, Glen will jump in on the market and he’ll … Well, it’s what everyone does now. It’s become … water’s become a marketable product.

Prof. Sarah Wheeler, Water Economist, University of Adelaide: A lot of it has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. There is a lot of money we could have spent a lot more cost-effectively to achieve a lot more recovery of environmental water. And then, a lot of the expenditure that we have made has had a lot of unintended consequences. We’ve got some of the smartest, productive, most efficient farmers in the whole world and so when you subsidise irrigation infrastructure, you’re creating incentives for changed human behaviour, and some of that changed behaviour means that they end up using more water.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The infrastructure subsidies are so lucrative, they’ve encouraged people to buy unviable land and convert it into irrigated fields… including earthmover John Kerrigan, whose business boomed as a result of the scheme

John Kerrigan, Landforming contractor: When the water efficiency projects came online, our business multiplied. We had one machine at the time. We’re uh, up to 10 or 12 machines presently. If there’s a problem with the scheme, it’s that it was probably too enthusiastically rolled out. Uh, too much, too quickly. Um, I would characterise it as pink batts for farmers, or pink batts for earth movers. It all had to happen in a short space of time.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The scheme provided John Kerrigan so much work he bought an undeveloped property. He then got a grant himself of more than $200,000 for earthworks to irrigate his new land.

John Kerrigan, Landforming contractor: The Commonwealth project funding accounted for about half of my spend on getting the property into a good irrigable shape.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Taxpayers sitting at home might say, “Why am I giving a bloke $200,000 for a project to save water through farming, when he actually isn’t farming at all?

John Kerrigan, Landforming contractor: He’s not farming before, or not irrigating it before, because it was un-unfeasible to do, on that particular piece of real estate. The project, ah, efficiency schemes have allowed parts of farms throughout the district that previously were, ah, uneconomic to farm. They’ve been able to increase their arable area, or their irrigable area on farms.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: John Kerrigan didn’t own any water to start with so he bought some to give back to the government.
He perfectly legally bought cheaper water from the Murray River even though his new farm is on the Murrumbidgee.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Some irrigators are taking full advantage of the loose rules. They’re buying cheaper water from another river and selling it to the government in exchange for projects on farms here. It means they’re getting an even better deal from the already inflated price the government’s been offering.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: Water’s a lot cheaper in the Murray than it is in the Murrumbidgee, so it means that the irrigator’s actually making a profit, quite a substantial profit by buying Murray water to sell to the Commonwealth for a Murrumbidgee project. It also suggests that the project, which is there solely because it’s supposed to generate savings in the Murrumbidgee, hasn’t generated those savings, hence the irrigators gone and bought Murray water instead.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Aren’t you using a subsidy for saving water, in fact, in order to profit from using more water to farm?

John Kerrigan, Landforming contractor: The concept or the, the purpose of doing that is to make something efficient and useful in that landscape, and to generate more for me, of course, but also in the community.

Prof. Sarah Wheeler, Water Economist, University of Adelaide: This happens all around the world and this is something that economists said right at the beginning when these programs were being designed for water recovery purposes in the Murray-Darling Basin. They’re increasing the irrigation land area and they’re increasing their water use over time.

Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: The scheme doesn’t work. Its first problem is, it’s horrendously expensive compared to buying water licences. The evidence at the Royal Commission was, at least 2.7 times more expensive to taxpayer.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Richard Beasley was the senior counsel assisting the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan. This year it found the four billion dollars spent so far on the water infrastructure scheme was wasteful and irresponsible.

Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: I would doubt whether there is any proper science behind these things, and that ought to be very closely investigated, because we’re not talking about grants of $100,000, even those should be investigated. We’re talking about billions in taxpayers’ money on a scheme that many, many capable and reliable scientists have said, this isn’t going to work.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The grants have funded a wave of construction so farmers can store even more water in dams. Taxpayers financed this 300-thousand-dollar dam for wealthy businessman Kelvin Baxter.

Kelvin Baxter, Farmer: We can get a big volume out of this into these irrigators. We can have the whole three irrigators running at once now that we’ve got this.

Glen Baxter, Farmer: That’s the idea.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: This dam can hold enough water to fill 200 Olympic swimming pools but with the drought biting, water is scarce for Kel Baxter and his son Glen.

Kelvin Baxter, Farmer: There’s not a lot of water, only 50 megalitres, but this could hold 500 if we’re ever able to fill it but it’s been a dry 18 months.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The dam completed a taxpayer funded overhaul of the farm including new spray irrigators to reduce water waste and make it more productive.

Kelvin Baxter, Farmer: We were always going to do this and I mean we funded some of these through infrastructure, we funded some of them through, from our own means. Yes, we may have become more water use efficient because of these – that money being able to come a little bit quicker than we might have just done it out of profits, right, you know?

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: So the scheme was paying for something you would have done anyway.

Kelvin Baxter, Farmer: In time for sure.

Glen Baxter, Farmer: Correct, in time we would have done –

Kelvin Baxter, Farmer: Absolutely, yes.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The water infrastructure scheme is changing the face of agriculture across the Murray Darling Basin. It’s fuelling a transition to crops like almonds and walnuts and their thirst for water is staggering.

David Papps, Fmr Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder: There’s been an explosion in the production of nuts in the Murrumbidgee, and more broadly in the Murray-Darling Basin. They’re extremely profitable crops. But they’re permanent plantations, and by that I mean they require water every year. They’re not like rice, or cotton, where if you don’t have enough water, because there’s a drought, you simply don’t plant the crop that year.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Richard Kingsford has been studying the Valley for more than 30 years.

Prof Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW: I’ve really seen agriculture change. These nut plantations, we know they require water as they’re growing, but they need a lot more water when they mature. And, they need water all the time. That’s tremendous pressure, particularly if we hit a drought year and a climate change really kicks in, um, which we haven’t really planned for in the Murray-Darling, what are we going to do? What are politicians going to do?

David Papps, Former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder: Governments are aware, ministers are aware of the dilemma they’re facing, and the potential consequences for both the environment and other irrigators in the Basin. This may well be a time bomb.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: These megafarms belong to a company called Webster Limited, which produces 90 per cent of Australia’s walnuts and is part owned by Canadian pension fund PSP.
Webster Limited is one of many big corporations expanding into the Murrumbidgee Valley.
It’s growing an empire here with the help of millions of dollars in water infrastructure grants.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: Webster’s a corporate company, they’ve developed a walnut plantations and almond plantations throughout the area. The key driver, well I believe is that they have sourced this area out because of its climate and because of its security with water.

Paul Pierotti, Griffith Business Chamber: Water is the magnet that is bringing Webster to Griffith. It’s you know, Webster owns large parcels and quantities of water, but it has sold massive, vast volumes of water to the, to the federal government under the basin plan in northern New South Wales. And what it’s done is use that money to come down here and buy further properties, and more water. The landscape has changed you know, at a really rapid rate of knots.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Anthony Kidman has watched Webster reshape the landscape with the help of the taxpayer, since he started doing business with them as a project manager for the local water supplier, Murrumbidgee Irrigation.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: In the last 5 years it’s exploded.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: On Webster’s prize properties, on the edge of the Murrumbidgee River, the company is transforming land the size of 40-thousand rugby fields.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: When it was first put into place it was livestock – sheep and cattle.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Webster is investing in another lucrative crop: cotton.
It’s absolutely enormous.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: In terms of infrastructure that’s been developed here it’s quite massive. Millions and millions of litres of water and millions and millions of dollars being spent in developing this land for this type of commodity.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: In recent months, Webster has levelled the fields and built channels.
Along the river, we see a channel leading to a cotton field.

Anthony Kidman, Fmr Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: You can see the development over there, Sean. They are creating a storage of significant size. You could say upwards of 1000 megs [megalitres].

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Next to the cotton field there’s a new dam waiting to be filled. It’s been funded by the taxpayer under the water infrastructure scheme.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: That programme was supposed to reduce the amount of water that was going to irrigation when it’s actually increased the opportunities for irrigation. All subsidised by tax payers and worse I think Australian tax payers will be really shocked to find out that that money is actually going to foreign investors as well and that’s just absolutely perverse.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Four Corners can reveal Webster Limited has received more than $40 million under the water infrastructure scheme to help pay for a $78 million transformation of its properties. Webster’s shareholders and Canadian backers are also banking on the funds for an expansion to the outer reaches of the Murrumbidgee to trap water that would have flowed into the rest of the Murray Darling Basin.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: Along that road you just see dam after dam after dam, these massive on-farm dams. Um, in a place that is as flat as a table, um, that just should not have dams.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Former Murray Darling Basin Authority Director Maryanne Slattery is investigating the impact of new dams on the river system.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: The way that valley has been changed and shaped from this program is just horrifying. It’s really hard to believe, you know, until you do that drive the scale of these on-farm dams. And then when you realise they’re being paid for by the Commonwealth, under a supposedly environmental program, that’s just horrifying.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Near Hay, where the heat soars into the 40s, Webster is planning to build new dams to hold huge volumes of water that would have previously flowed past its properties.
The water will be used to develop prime irrigated cotton country.
What’s the argument for taxpayers funding these massive new dams to save water?

Prof Richard Kingsford, Dir. Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW: I can’t really get that. Essentially it increases the take from the river system, and ultimately decreases the amount of water in the river both for, you know, the environmental systems downstream, but also the people that depend on that water downstream. That to me is where in fact we may be seeing more water taken out of the rivers rather than water savings.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: As a taxpayer it’s just, it’s absolutely outrageous and indefensible that Commonwealth funds for an environmental program are being are being used to fund big new dams to take flows that used to benefit the environment.

Dr Emma Carmody, Senior Policy and Law Reform Solicitor, Environmental Defender’s Office: The point of the subsidy is to save water and return that to the river system. It’s not to allow the beneficiary to take more water. And in fact, it’s so perverse to my mind, it’s almost worse than water theft, because it’s the government and taxpayer money that’s being used to sanction this kind of behaviour.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Despite more than 40 million dollars granted to Webster Limited, its deals with the Australian Government are confidential. There is no transparency about how the money’s been spent or what effect Webster’s huge irrigation expansion will have on the river system.
Webster says it has acted at all times within the government’s guidelines and that the projects have been independently audited.

Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: I’d want to see every invoice. I’m not suggesting there’s anything untoward, but I’d also be wanting to understand the science of how much water that scheme is saving the environment. The rules seem pretty slack, particularly in terms of the scientific justification for it.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: The efficiency program has become a massive subsidy for large agribusiness. That has facilitated the increase of irrigation water, um, not a decrease.

Prof Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW: I find that astounding. I mean, why are we building these large dams for private gain at public cost? I mean, how can we be doing that? And worse, you know we are denying the river of the water that it needs and it seems to be at complete odds with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the Water Act.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: In NSW, the biggest portion of water infrastructure funding has gone to one monopoly corporation, Murrumbidgee Irrigation, for upgrades to its huge network of channels and pipes which deliver water to the valley’s farms.

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: It’s investing in the basin, it’s getting water back for the environment and it’s actually also I think upgrading our infrastructure.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Murrumbidgee Irrigation has never had an opportunity like this before?

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: It’s, it’s a bit of a unique opportunity, yes, and the key thing for us is that we, we do have a period of time where we, we can really set, set this area up for the next 50 years and ensure that the, the productivity, um, and the, the agricultural production in the area continues to, to do well.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Murrumbidgee Irrigation is also a major water trader in the region.

Paul Pierotti, Griffith Business Chamber: They are a corporation entity, or a company, but their shareholders are actually the farmers or agriculturalists in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation area. Instead of them focusing on their customer and the products that those customers grow, they’re focusing on whatever way they can make money for their own entity to continue to feed and thrive that entity. And I believe that that entity has grown into a monstrosity due to the massive influx of government coffers.

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: So you’re moving from a system that’s fully automated.
Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Tony Onley is a former Webster manager, now with Murrumbidgee Irrigation. As its business development coordinator, his job has been to consult with customers on how to spend the taxpayer’s money.

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: This is our big cotton growing area down here.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Murrumbidgee Irrigation is using the infrastructure subsidies its received to help improve the water supply on channels like this.

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: Yes we’ve got quite a considerable capacity increase.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: And so this was through the taxpayer funded program as well.

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: Yes, this was done under PIIOP.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: OK and it allows more water to come through

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: It does.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Despite the aim of saving water, the infrastructure subsidies are driving up demand from customers like Webster.
Do you maintain your contact with the company?

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: I maintain my contact will all of the customers I come into contact with.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: OK some landholders might say that gives them a competitive advantage.

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: Well it doesn’t. So they’re one of 2,300 customers. They are a very important customer but we treat all our customers equally.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Is there a conflict of interest?

Tony Onley, Business Development Co-ordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation: That’s for someone else to answer. But from my point of view? Absolutely not.

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: The Australian government funds our water savings initiatives and then we leverage off that in terms of other opportunities. If we’re going into an area to do works, it does make sense to, to maximise the return on the works that, that you are doing.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Some of your landholders complain that the bigger operators here are winning the benefits of the tax payer funding, including Webster Limited.

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: Mm-hmm.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: How would you respond to that?

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: I think that all the works that we’re doing is benefiting all of our customers. Uh, the key aspect of what we do is provide water to all of our customers, and all of our customers are our shareholders. And the- the investment in our infrastructure is actually providing a better level of service for each and- and every customer.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Murrumbidgee Irrigation has used the water infrastructure funds to help transform the valley. Some customers have done better than others. On the dry Hay Plains, on the outer reaches of the valley Murrumbidgee Irrigation has removed an entire district of shareholders from its network of channels.

Matthew Ireson, Grazier: The fact that we’re being exited from their area of operation makes you wonder, is it really a water savings project or is it a project where someone’s making a substantial amount of money out of it.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: To save water Murrumbidgee Irrigation shut down hundreds of kilometres of leaky channels. It means the regular water supply these farmers rely on now comes from a pipeline.

Matthew Ireson, Grazier: I’ve had to move all the cattle out of this paddock because I’m running out of water. As you can see in that dam there, there’s turtles and animals and fish, perishing there now.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Fifth generation grazier Matt Ireson says this new pipeline supplies far less water than his business was built on.

Matthew Ireson, Grazier: So this is our future water supply.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Murrumbidgee Irrigation spent 49 million taxpayer dollars on the project and says billions of litres of water have been saved.

Matt Ireson, Grazier: The purpose of the scheme is for water savings. We support the water savings initiative and to save the losses along the channels. Uh, couldn’t agree more, but the process has not been transparent at all, especially for the taxpayer. They, they’ve handed over all these millions of dollars for a scheme, that’s supposed to have value for money.

Brett Jones, CEO Murrumbidgee Irrigation: This is a fundamental project that has, has changed that landscape from a unsustainable water delivery that, to deliver two billion litres of water took twelve. And there’s now a full pipeline system of better quality water being delivered 365 days a year.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The project allowed Murrumbidgee Irrigation to sell access to more water upstream, according to its former engineer, Anthony Kidman, who ran the project.

Anthony Kidman, Former Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager: That has given Murrumbidgee irrigation a great ability or an extended ability to take the water capacity that was delivered to those customers in the past, and share it or, or issue it to, to customers upstream. It is the golden opportunity to sell, sell access to water delivery to some large customers, be it corporate or just large farmer customers.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Professor Quentin Grafton is the Chair of Water Economics at UNESCO.
He’s been warning for years that the government has grossly exaggerated the amount of water returned to the rivers under the water for infrastructure scheme.

it’s less than half of what the government claims. And in the worst case scenarios we’ve gone backwards, not forwards. That in fact the amount of water in the environment has actually in fact declined as a result of these efficiency subsidies and not gone forward. And that could be backwards by, more than 100 billion litres. We don’t know, and we don’t know because we need a water audit, a hydrological audit of what’s going on in the basin.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Studies have shown for decades that reducing waste water on fields, means less seeps back into the rivers.

Prof Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics, ANU: Indeed, the Productivity Commission identified this as an issue in 2006. You increase the amount of water consumed on the irrigators’ field, which is fine for the irrigator. That’s good for the irrigator. That gives more bang for the irrigators’ buck. The downside is, once you become more efficient at delivering water to your plants, it also means there’s less water going back in terms of seepage into the aquifers and to the groundwater, and there’s much less water going back off in terms of run-off.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: Quentin Grafton has called for accurate data on water use since the scheme was designed, but the irrigation industry and the Government have tried to discredit his work.

Prof Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics, ANU: They just don’t want to know. It’s an inconvenient truth. We knock on the door, we tell them what we’ve done, we give then the evidence and we get pushback and the pushback is no you’re wrong. And we say fine tell us where we’re wrong. Blank. There’s no response where we’re wrong. It’s been incredible to say this, that we can spend $4,000-million to-date and billions more to spend, yet we haven’t done those measurements, those basic measurements to allow us to know what in fact we’ve got, net, in terms of the impact for the environment.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: It was very well understood within the water agencies, certainly at the Commonwealth level, that there was lots of question marks over the water efficiency program. It was always talked about with a raised eyebrow and a bit of a snigger that there was a lot of water that was bought well, well above the going rate. A reasonable rate, and that the water savings were quite dubious.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: When Maryanne Slattery was at the Murray Darling Basin Authority, she discovered the infrastructure subsidies were funding the expansion of dams … and sought data from the department director in charge of the scheme.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: That director told me that the Commonwealth didn’t have that information and didn’t keep that information. And I was pretty startled by that, because I couldn’t believe that, that you know, a Commonwealth program that was worth billions of dollars would be administered that way.

Sean Rubensztein-Dunlop: How surprised were you when you heard that?

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: Ah absolutely gobsmacked.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: MaryAnne Slattery left the Authority in disgust in 2017, concluding the Murray Darling Basin Plan was a fraud on Australian taxpayers and the claimed savings from the water infrastructure scheme were grossly exaggerated.

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: Government does not do any checking of, either at the first point, the estimated saving or at the last point, the actual saving. So there’s no government checking in that process, at all.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: How much confidence do you have in this system?

Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute: None. No confidence at all.

Prof. Sarah Wheeler, Water Economist, University of Adelaide: In my opinion, money spent on irrigation infrastructure programmes is wasted. Four billion dollars of taxpayer money has been wasted to date. There is a huge opportunity cost of that money. It could have been spent on buying water directly back and reinvested within real communities on services and activities that would actually help them become more healthy and resilient. In my mind, we’ve wasted $4 billion of taxpayer money.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: This year the South Australian Royal Commission called for an overhaul of the 13-billion-dollar Murray Darling Basin Plan.
It described the five-point-six billion dollar water infrastructure scheme as “a quintessential example of a sorry lack of accountability and transparency”.

Richard Beasley Sc, Snr Counsel Assisting SA Royal Commission: The Commissioner directly recommended that the whole scheme first of all be stopped, because it probably doesn’t work, and it probably isn’t recovering water, and it is a huge expense to taxpayers but the auditor general should investigate the entire scheme. Who’s been given the money, why and what is the scientific evidence, the scientific basis in relation to what amount of water is claimed to have been recovered from individual schemes or from the scheme overall. There’s no transparency at all.

Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop: The Australian Government blocked the Royal Commission from questioning Commonwealth employees and then ignored its findings. It was no surprise to the Australian economists, scientists and former officials … who’ve warned successive governments about the water infrastructure scheme.

Prof Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW: The broader Australian public asked, demanded that governments do something about the rivers of the Murray-Darling, and essentially what we’re seeing happen is that we’re degrading the rivers at the s- same time as we’re handing out money to a few individuals to, um, realise huge economic, um, gains at public cost.

David Papps, Fmr Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder: At this moment, with the set of political circumstances facing us, and what I think is a wilful lack of determination on the part of New South Wales, Victoria, and now South Australia, aided and abetted by the Commonwealth government, we’re not going to see the Basin Plan properly implemented, we’re not going to see the benefits flow to the environment that was intended way back in 2012. It’s going to be a fundamental failure, and that’s $13 billion of taxpayers’ money compromised, on the verge of failure, in my view, without some sort of real commitment from the states and the Commonwealth to do what they said they would do.

Prof Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance, ANU: The continuous response has been, “Well, just go away. Go away and just don’t even talk about it.” Well, I’m sorry, I’m not going away. This isn’t going away, it’s not working. We could have taken the same amount of money, delivered for the environment, helped communities with hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, in terms of various programs, yet we chose not to do that. We chose to put it into pipes, we chose to put it into concrete and we chose to deliver private benefits with public money, and that is a national scandal.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/cash-splash/11289412


SEARCH for the following Reports on the Murray-Darling River on CAAN’s Website. View link at the bottom of the text.

‘Reckless’: Farmers left high and dry after Murray River water goes missing 

Barnaby Joyce attempts to Revive the Bradfield Scheme to reduce the Effects of Drought:  Rejected as ‘Pie in the Sky’

Barnaby Joyce & The Bradfield Scheme Pie in the Sky

Labor demands Answers on $80 Million Murray-Darling Basin Water Buy-Back Deal

Barnaby Joyce, Angus Taylor, Australia and The Carribean

The Murray-Darling Water Scandal … “Proving political collusion in water buybacks”

Our Role in the Death of a river … the Murray Darling … 

Keelty warns River ‘Ripe for Corruption’ 

Hamish Investigates:  Did the Government just waste $80M Buying Water?

How taxpayers are funding a huge corporate expansion in the Murray-Darling Basin

Four Corners By Sean Rubinsztein-DunlopMary Fallon,Lucy Carter and Michael Slezak

8 JULY 2019

A drone shot of Webster operations in the Murrumbidgee Valley.

PHOTO: Webster has received $41 million in Commonwealth funds to grow its empire in the Murrumbidgee Valley.RELATED STORY: Forests flooding while rivers run dry: two tales of one river systemRELATED STORY: Basin authority facing $750m negligence claim from Murray River irrigators

RELATED STORY: Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission won’t look at fish kills

RELATED STORY: Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission slams authority for ‘maladministration’

Australian taxpayers have given a huge corporation more than $40 million, enabling it to expand irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin under an environmental scheme that has been labelled a national disgrace.

Key points

  • Billions of dollars in Commonwealth funds have been handed out to irrigators under a scheme designed to help the environment
  • Partly foreign-owned corporation Webster Limited received more than $40 million and has expanded its irrigation operations
  • Farmers say no-one is checking whether grants given under the scheme are delivering their promised water savings

Four Corners can reveal that more than $4 billion in Commonwealth funds has been handed over to irrigators, which has allowed them to expand their operations and use more water under the $5.6 billion water infrastructure scheme — the centrepiece of Australia’s $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The scheme is intended to recover water for the rivers by giving farmers money to build water-saving infrastructure, in return for some of their water rights.

Some of the beneficiaries of the scheme are partly foreign-owned corporations that have used the money to transform vast tracts of land along the threatened river system, planting thirsty cotton and nut fields.

One of the biggest operators is Webster Limited, a publicly traded company that produces 90 per cent of Australia’s walnuts and is 19.5 per cent owned by Canadian pension fund PSP.

Webster has received $41 million from the water infrastructure scheme to grow its empire in the Murrumbidgee Valley, in south-west New South Wales, where it has bought hundreds of square kilometres of land.

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The funding covers more than half of an ambitious $78 million capital works program by Webster Limited to build dams to store more than 30 billion extra litres of water and irrigate an extra 81 square kilometres of land, developing much of it into prime, irrigated cotton country.

Maryanne Slattery, a former director at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, says it is horrifying that a scheme designed to help the environment is allowing irrigators to use more water.

“That program was supposed to reduce the amount of water that was going to irrigation, when it’s actually increased the opportunities for irrigation … all subsidised by taxpayers,” she said.

“I think Australian taxpayers will be really shocked to find out that that money is actually going to foreign investors as well.”

Maryanne Slattery wears a blue floral shirt under a dark blue jacket. She has a neutral facial expression

PHOTO: Maryanne Slattery was a director at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority before she quit in disgust, concluding the basin plan was a fraud on the taxpayer. (ABC News: Neil Maude)

Dams paid for by the Commonwealth

On the Hay Plains, one of the flattest places on earth, Webster is one of several agribusinesses building dams to store huge volumes of water to irrigate new cotton fields on the outer reaches of the Murrumbidgee River.

*UNSW river ecologist Professor Richard Kingsford, who has been studying the area for more than 30 years, says the new dams are trapping water that would have otherwise flowed downstream into habitats and farming communities in the Murray-Darling Basin.

*”I find that astounding. I mean, why are we building these large dams for private gain at public cost?” he said.

“Essentially it increases the take from the river system and ultimately decreases the amount of water in the river. That to me is where, in fact, we may be seeing more water taken out of the rivers than water savings.”

*Ms Slattery says the region, where temperatures regularly soar into the 40s, is unsuitable for dams because of the high rate of evaporation.

“You just see dam after dam after dam, these massive on-farm dams, in a place that is as flat as a table, that just should not have dams,” said Ms Slattery, who is now a senior water researcher at the Australia Institute.

“And then when you realise they’re being paid for by the Commonwealth, under a supposedly environmental program, that’s just horrifying.”

No checks or oversight on water scheme

Wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin

PHOTO: The water infrastructure scheme was designed to recover water for rivers in the basin.

Former government officials have revealed to Four Corners that no-one in government monitors whether the work paid for by the water infrastructure scheme delivers on its promised water savings.

Farmers say that to get a grant, they give the Federal Government an estimate of how much water their proposed new infrastructure will save, but that figure is never checked or monitored, even after millions of dollars in Commonwealth funds are handed over.

What is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

What is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has remained controversial ever since its introduction back in 2012. So, what is it again and why is it back on the agenda?

Ms Slattery says the scheme is a fraud on the taxpayer.

“There’s no government checking in that process at all. There is no confidence that that process has been done independently and is able to be verified,” she said.

Governments are very motivated to get the savings on paper, and they’ve got deep pockets … you’d have to expect that some of the savings aren’t real, and that money has gone to projects that haven’t yielded what they were supposed to.”

*UNESCO chair in water economics Professor Quentin Grafton has been calling for measurements on the impacts of the scheme since it was introduced, but he says the Federal Government has ignored him and tried to discredit his work.

“It’s been incredible to say this, that we can spend [$4 billion] to date yet we haven’t done those basic measurements to allow us to know what in fact we’ve got, net, in terms of the impact for the environment,” he said.

“In the best case scenario it’s less than half of what the Government claims, and in the worst case scenario we’ve gone backwards, not forwards; that in fact the amount of water in the environment has actually declined as a result of these efficiency subsidies.

“We don’t know because we need a water audit, a hydrological audit of what’s going on in the basin.”

Farmers say Government overpaid them for water

Glen Andreazza

PHOTO: Glen Andreazza says as a taxpayer, he doesn’t agree with the water infrastructure scheme. (ABC: Neil Maude)

Farmers have also told Four Corners that they believe the Government has overpaid them for water under the scheme, and in many cases they have been paid to build infrastructure they would have built anyway.

Julie Andreazza and her husband, Glen, received more than $100,000 for earthworks to reduce water runoff from their farm.

“Those works were things that we were going to always do anyway,” Ms Andreazza told Four Corners.

“Obviously, cost was a problem, so we were going to do it down the track. But when this opportunity turned up for available funds to be used, well of course we jumped at it.”

Why did SA decide to have a royal commission?

South Australians were outraged to discover NSW irrigators were taking billions of litres of water earmarked for the environment. Find out what happened next.

Glen Andreazza estimates the Government paid double what it should have on the water buy-back on his farm.

“I’m a taxpayer, I don’t agree with the scheme. I think it’s too expensive,” he said.

The Andreazzas were later able to buy back the same amount of water they had surrendered for the grant, and they got it on the market for a lower price.

Professor Grafton says the scheme could have delivered huge benefit for the environment and communities along the Murray-Darling, but instead it has been squandered.

“We chose to put it into pipes, we chose to put it into concrete and we chose to deliver private benefits with public money, and that is a national scandal,” he said.

A wide aerial shot shows a large body of water with patches of dry land

PHOTO: The Hay Plains in western New South Wales is flat, hot, and, experts say, unsuitable for dams.

Webster Limited has also been expanding its nut business, planting vast new walnut and almond orchards, as part of a boom in the nut industry, which is placing the river system under increased strain.

Nut trees are extremely thirsty, requiring water throughout every year — unlike crops such as cotton, which can be planted only when there is enough water to sustain them.

Webster Limited’s deals with the Australian Government are confidential, however the company has confirmed to Four Corners it received $41 million in water infrastructure subsidies in return for surrendering water licences it valued at $22 million.

Those licences were part of an enormous water portfolio the company most recently estimated to be worth $350 million.

Under the scheme, details of who receives the subsidies and how they are spent are not publicly available. The Government has not measured what effect Webster’s huge irrigation expansion will have on the river system.

Webster declined to give Four Corners figures on how its taxpayer-backed expansion had changed its water usage, but said the funding had led to a decrease in water use per hectare and was intended to make the farms more productive and efficient.

According to its environmental impact statements, the works allowed Webster to pump and store huge volumes of what they call “opportunity water” — water from heavy rain events that would have otherwise flowed downstream.

The upgrade enabled Webster to activate a stockpile of unused licences for the cheaper water, known officially as “supplementary water”.

Webster says its projects have been independently audited and reported in accordance with the Government’s guidelines.

The $41 million was provided to Webster via companies that are contracted by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to distribute water infrastructure funding and administer the program.

The department relies on the companies, known as “delivery partners”, to submit independently validated evidence of changes to Webster’s farming practices.

Watch the Four Corners investigation, Cash Splash, tonight at 8.30pm on ABC TV and iview.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-08/taxpayers-helping-fund-murray-darling-basin-expansion/11279468






WITH respect to the Eastern Curlew … its population has declined 80 per cent in 30 years!  The Morton Bay mudflats are an important feeding ground … they are highly adapted to it and don’t use other places to feed!

This mudflat has been declared an internationally important wetland under the Ramsar Convention.

Developer Lang Walker proposes 3600 apartments as a new residential, commercial and tourism precinct to cover 42 hectares of the Ramsar site!

And to excavate, dewater to put a concrete development with canals and marinas onto Moreton Bay! Lang Walker is a Top AFR Lister; a big political donor; the Walker Corporation donated $200,000 to the Federal Liberal Party …

DESPITE the Ramsar Secretariat opposing this development the Federal Government has explored ways for it to go ahead!!


Related Article:





Extinction Nation



The fight to save Australia’s endangered species.

“It’s about as bad as it can get, without them literally all being dead.” Bird ecologist

Australia boasts a stunning array of unique wildlife. They feature on our coat of arms and they’re placed front and centre in our tourism campaigns. But the reality is, many of our native animals are in danger.

“It’s embarrassing being involved with wildlife, to be an Australian, to have this record of extinction.” Conservation sanctuary owner

Australia has one of the worst extinction rates on the planet and the problem is growing. There are currently more than 500 animal species under threat.

“If we can’t bring ourselves to care…then what about the next thing, and what about the next thing after that? Where’s the end point of that attitude?” Conservation ecologist

On Monday Four Corners investigates how Australia has found itself in the midst of an extinction crisis.

“Our system for protecting threatened species in this country is fundamentally broken.” Conservation activist

There is heated debate over who is responsible and what lengths governments should go to, to save these threatened species.

“It’s not about waving a chequebook at the levels of threatened species. It’s about sensible funding, which we do.” Environment Minister

Four Corners goes into the field with leading scientists and conservation volunteers to document first hand the fight to save these wild creatures. Our camera captures precious pictures of some of these endangered animals.

“It is rare to see them at all but to have posing like that for us was a gift…just wonderful.” Volunteer conservationist

With money in short supply, many rescue efforts are reliant on volunteers and crowd funding,

“If volunteers like us weren’t doing it, it just wouldn’t be done and the animals would be going extinct.” Volunteer conservationist

Ecologists say these species are just as priceless as a work of art and should be protected in the same way.

“You wouldn’t go burn the Mona Lisa because you could. You’d put it somewhere and keep it safe.” Bird ecologist

They warn that species extinction will have consequences for us all.

“We are an interconnected ecosystem. It’s going to actually start having knock on effects to us as well and our society and in a whole range of ways.” Conservation activist

Extinction Nation, reported by Stephanie March, goes to air on Monday 24th June at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 25th June at 1.00pm and Wednesday 26th at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.












A lovely hopeful story, this could be a success and turn the tide of greed, destruction and exploitation …



Ludlow tuart forest at heart of campaign rebuilding once-great WA ecosystem







Evelyn Taylor stands in silence as she strains her neck, attempting to see the very tips of a 600-year-old tuart tree.

Key points:

  • A group of volunteers aim to plant more than 100,000 seedlings over the next five years
  • Tuarts are unique to WA and only grow along a small strip of coastline
  • The forest once spanned more than 110,000 hectares but now only 3 per cent remains


The tree’s branches stretch out for metres and are a mighty sight among its much younger siblings.

For decades, timber workers strode through this forest searching for smaller and easier tuarts to cut down and harvest.

But Mrs Taylor is here for a much different purpose — she is determined to save this tree, and the forest it calls home.

“I would think if this forest is lost, then I have failed as a human being, really … it’s as serious as that.”



The tuart is unique to Western Australia and only grows along a small strip of the state’s coastline.

This forest once spanned more than 110,000 hectares, from North Perth to south of Busselton.

But after many years of clearing for farming, urbanisation and logging, only 3,500 hectares remain near Ludlow in the South West.

Over the next five years, Mrs Taylor and a group of volunteers aim to restore 180 hectares of the forest by planting more than 100,000 seedlings.

“To see a forest declining like this is really just very upsetting to me,” she said.

Tall, beautiful trees

Tuarts were first logged in the 1830s, when European settlers stumbled upon the large, open forest.

“They were big, tall trees, beautifully formed and they were precious hardwood on the world scene in those days,” said Des Donnelly, vice-chairman of the Ludlow Tuart Forest Restoration Group.

Due to the timber’s strength and durability, the wood was sent across the world to be used for shipbuilding.

“It had a good name very early on, and the early settlers used those trees to start the economy,” he said.

Old but not forgotten

A settlement at the edge of the forest was built to house forestry workers and at times also included a mill and a forestry school.

Tuart logging ended in 1975, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the entire settlement was abandoned, leaving the site in disrepair.

Mr Donnelly said the historical value of the settlement would draw tourists and keep interest in the forest alive.

“It’s the first real settlement that was built [in WA] and it is the last one standing, so it’s got huge heritage value and we must respect that,” he said.



The volunteers hope to restore some of the rundown buildings to use for an education centre and museum for tourists.

“There’s thousands of cars that pass here every day, but people drive through this forest at 60 to 80 kilometres per hour and they don’t really understand what they are looking at,” Mr Donnelly said.

Prisoners lend a hand

Trying to restore the buildings while planting thousands of seedlings is a huge task — but they are not without help.



Work-release teams from the Bunbury Regional Prison have been among other community groups lending a hand.

Shane Dowell, assistant superintendent at the prison, said the inmates had helped create a fence around the seedlings.

“If we don’t put the rabbit-proof fencing in when they go to plant the tuart trees, the rabbits will eat the seedlings,” he said.

“Then it will take a number of years for us to grow seeds and replant again.”

The work benefits the forest and the prisoners.

“They feel worthwhile, build up their self esteem and also their work ethic,” Mr Dowell said.

Next generation of planters

The wet June weather in southern WA has provided the perfect soil temperament to plant tuart seedlings.

Thirteen-year-old Bella Burgemeister, along with many other volunteers, braved the torrential rain to help plant.

She said while her generation did not clear the trees, it was still their responsibility to help regenerate them.

“It is so important that it is a multigenerational movement that helps fix all this, because it is not just one generation that has done this, it is multiple, so we need multiple to fix this.”


In 40 years’ time, the seedlings will reach maturity and create a closed-canopy tall tuart forest.

Mr Donnelly said he knew that despite all his efforts, it was unlikely he would be around to see the seedlings reach their potential — but that is not slowing him down.

“It’ll take us 100 years to get this back, but if we don’t start now, we may never do it.”

Contact Kate Stephens


SOURCE:  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-23/campaign-to-restore-ludlow-tuart-forest/11235668






Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

Photo:  Train Maintenance Facility Residents Action Group:  This is how Kangy Angy was!


IS this under the dictums of the new foreign owners of John Holland?  Is this how they operate from whence they came?

AND as for the noise wall is it about cost cutting?

WHAT have they got to hide by not having a meeting with the local community?



Transport NSW and John Holland representatives accused of aggressive bullying tactics




The vast tract of land that was cleared of more than 4000 trees to make way for heavy industry in a rural area


Kangy Angy Residents Action Group (KARAG) members claim that they have been shut out of transparent and meaningful communication by Transport NSW and the contractor, John Holland, at the Intercity Rail Maintenance Facility in Orchard Rd.

“It’s more or less a stalemate,” said group member, Susan Zgraja.

“Their idea of community liaison is that they will inform us of what they want us to know and when, and they don’t want to hear our comments, questions or feedback,” she said.

Susan said they have “flatly refused” a group meeting, so a meeting was scheduled between another member, Tracey Stewart, and Paul Galea who is Communications and Stakeholder Manager of the rail facility’s contractor, John Holland.

Susan said she accompanied Tracey to the meeting and unexpectedly there was also a representative of Transport NSW, who objected to Susan being there because she was not invited and told her she could not be part of the meeting.

“He was loud, aggressive and bullying towards us, and said that if I did not leave he would cancel the meeting and that would be the end of it,” Susan said.

“Afterwards we both received emails from, Paul Galea, saying there was no need for face-to-face meetings and all questions would be answered in emails,” Susan said.

She said that since that so-called meeting, it has been “more or less a stalemate”.
We’re not going to give up, but we don’t know how to get past this fait accompli.

*State Member for The Entrance, David Mehan, said Transport NSW was not dealing fairly with the community.

“They could be doing a much better job,” he said.
He said he was working through a few things and attempting to get some improvements, such as the water and sewer connection to residents, which was firmly indicated in the first place as one of the benefits for the community but now neither Transport NSW or Council seemed to want to do it.

“We still don’t have a final design to see the visual impact on the residents,” he said.

Mehan has managed to get a designated bus stop at the site entrance where an informal bus stop was operating.

“Public works need to be to the benefit of the wider community, not just because the government needs something.

“It seems we are dealing with a very arrogant government,” Mehan said.

*KARAG’s aim for the meeting was to get information about the extra parcel of land Transport NSW wanted and the progress, if any, of a noise wall surrounding the site.

“We had been informed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) that Transport NSW had applied for more land and invited submissions, which we did,” Susan said.

“The OEH had indicated to us that it was inclined to give them permission, however, we objected because it would cause more environmental damage and the removal of even more mature trees, they’ve already ripped out about 4,000.”

A report to Central Coast Council’s meeting on March 25 said that Transport NSW applied to OEH to modify its development in order to conduct additional works outside the approved site boundary, which would entail clearing an extra 0.58ha of vegetation and habitat for 13 identified animals.

Clearance of the extra land is not considered by Transport NSW to have a significant impact on threatened biodiversity, and the OEH proposes to allow the clearance of the additional 0.58ha,” the report said.

Director of Environment and Planning, Scott Cox, said a submission would be lodged on a point of clarification only at this stage and a review of the matter was ongoing.
Susan said Transport NSW was also dodging the issue of installing a noise wall surrounding the site.

“It was part of the original plan but they keep coming up with the same reason all the time that they haven’t completed the design, but I think it is because of the cost.

“This is a heavy industry operating 24/7 we’re talking about, in a quiet rural area, and they haven’t solved the noise problem.

“A lot of complaints have been because of the intrusion of noise, vibration, loss of privacy and the clearing of the land.

“If they put the wall in first, there would have been less upset, especially along Enterprise Dr.

“And they say the wall, especially along Enterprise Dr, would cause echoing, but I think they are just throwing us a furphy.

“I’m not a sound engineer but I do know that those walls are supposed to absorb the noise not bounce off.”

This journalist contacted the Communications and Stakeholder Manager for the project, Paul Galea, and he refused to talk to me.

I told him I contacted him because I thought his role was community liaison, but he was rude, terse and hung up after saying: “I don’t want to talk to you, go to Transport NSW,” he said.

A statement from Transport NSW on May 13 said it was committed to working with the local community during construction of the rail maintenance facility.

“As the maintenance facility site is currently an active construction zone, John Holland is responsible for all aspects of workplace safety, including the safety of visitors to the site.

“Accordingly, only invited visitors and staff that have completed necessary induction are permitted onsite.

“Where this requirement has not been met, unannounced visitors to the site are not permitted.

“The project team has been providing ongoing updates about the facility and matters of interest by direct contact to community members and through written communications, including regular community newsletters.

“We welcome feedback about the project at projects@transport.nsw.gov.au and 1800 684 490, or for urgent matters, by contacting our 24-hour Construction Response Line on 1800 775 465.

“Project information is also available at transport.nsw.gov.au/projects

“Construction of the noise wall will be completed before the start of operation of the rail maintenance facility.”

In an email to KARAG on March 19, Galea said: “There was no intention by John Holland (contractor) to convene group meetings as you’ve requested……it’s my experience that during the delivery phase of a project, talking with individual residents about their specific areas of interest on a one-to-one basis is consistently a more effective strategy for all parties.

“The maintenance facility project has frequent and ongoing contact with local stakeholders and residents across a wide range of topics.

“These calls, emails and meetings are in addition to regular notifications distributed throughout the local community and provided to other stakeholders.”

In regard to a noise wall to surround the site, Galea said in the email: “The Review of Environmental Factors assessed operational noise and vibration and proposed mitigation measures.

“John Holland is currently finalising the Operational Noise and Vibration Review as required by the project’s planning approval.

The community will be notified of outcomes when the review and proposed mitigation measures are finalised.

“Installing a noise wall around the entire site is not considered feasible due to a range of factors including the need to clear extensive areas of additional vegetation, the prohibitive cost and timeline implications, and the need to seek additional and extensive planning approvals.

“In some areas, installing a noise wall may also increase the noise impacts for residents – as the wall would also reverberate noise back towards residents from existing noise sources outside the project, such as Enterprise Dr.”

Interview, May 10
Kangy Angy Residents Action Group, Susan Zgraja
Interview, May 10
The Entrance MP, David Mehan
Media statement, May 13
Transport NSW
Central Coast Council meeting Mar 25
Agenda Item 6.4
Email, Mar 19
Tracey Stewart
Email, Mar 19

Rail Facility Communications and Stakeholder Manager, Paul Galea

Journalist, Sue Murray


SOURCE:  http://www.centralcoastnews.net/2019/05/15/transport-nsw-and-john-holland-representatives-accused-of-aggressive-bullying-tactics/










‘Reckless’: Farmers left high and dry after Murray River water goes missing 

DESPITE all the evidence … the Farrer constituents and their neighbours voted for the return of Sussan Ley and Barnaby Joyce!  Ms Ley is now Environment Minister!

-‘the nasty party’ voted against the Banking Royal Commission which later proved how banks were ripping off farmers …

-water from Eildon Lake will be going to almond farms; not to supply drinking water for Adelaide

-what of Barnaby Joyce, Angus Taylor and the Water Buyback?




‘Reckless’: Farmers left high and dry after Murray River water goes missing

Updated 17 June 2019


Reece Glenn at the Barmah Choke. Photo: Kerry Brewster

An extraordinary amount of deliberately “lost” water – the volume of Sydney Harbour – is being blamed for the extreme hardship faced by hundreds of Murray River farmers struggling to survive on zero water allocations.

Reece Glenn, a small irrigator who has worked his property at Mathoura, in the Murray Valley between Echuca and Deniliquin, since 1946, is one of countless family businesses driven near bankruptcy, a result he says of the “reckless mismanagement” of the Murray.

“I’m disgusted they pushed so much water down, knowing a lot of it would be wasted,” Mr Glenn said.

“The almond farmers downstream have the deep pockets. They come first. All us smaller operators are cast aside.”

In the midst of a drought, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released high volumes from the Hume Dam for five months until January to deliver water bought by large-scale, mostly foreign-owned, almond plantations near South Australia.

Over 141 days, prolonged flooding at the narrow ‘Barmah Choke’ sent a reported 536 megalitres into the Barmah forest, an “icon site” of river red gums, protected under the international Ramsar Convention.

“While everyone else in the basin was dealing with drought, the MDBA created a flood and lost large volumes of water,” said Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher for The Australia Institute.

According to the progressive think tank, whose calculations using river-flow data are contained in its latest scathing report of water management, the MDBA’s decision to prioritise almond plantations damaged the forest and significantly reduced the amount of water available for production.

It left hundreds of NSW general security water users including rice, grain and dairy farmers with zero water allocations.

“We estimate an allocation of between 16 per cent and 61 per cent could have been possible had the MDBA complied with its official objectives and outcomes,” Ms Slattery said.

The financial impact on hundreds of small irrigators and their dependent communities has been huge, with the drought forcing up the price of water on the temporary market to record levels.

“We can’t compete. It’s over for us,” Mr Glenn said. “I’m ready to quit.”

The 300-strong Wakool Landholders Association of Victoria claimed the MDBA is also ignoring the environmental impacts of pushing too much water through narrow sections of river.

“In its rush to deliver water downstream to permanent plantings, the MDBA has shown no concern for efficiency of delivery or environmental damage. It has increased carp numbers and salinity and decimated native flora and fauna,” the association’s chair Darcy Hare said.

The flooding of Australia’s largest river red gum forest during one of the hottest summers on record conflicted with the MDBA’s obligation to protect what it regards as one of the most ecologically valuable sites in the basin.

Critics say it has done significant damage.

“It cued annual bird breeding at the wrong time so young birds couldn’t grow to fledglings and leave their nests”, says Chris Norman, CEO of Victoria’s Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA), which manages environmental water for the benefit of the Goulburn, Murray and Broken rivers.

“The forest needs winter/spring flooding to generate its unique Moira grass growth and stimulate bird feeding and breeding. Inundating the grass over summer drowns the seeds.”

The same concerns are shared by environment groups.

“This very important site has been degraded. The unique grass is going. New red gums and rushes are moving in to replace it. This is a direct result of the MDBA putting unsustainable water trade above all else,” Environment Victoria’s Juliet Le Feuvre said.

Under the Ramsar Convention, Australia must report threats to the unique ecological character of a listed wetland.

But the responsible body, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, claims the forest benefited from extra water it received in 2018.

On the nearby Goulburn River there’s no dispute over the negative impacts of similar high summer flows from the Eildon reservoir.

The Barmah Choke. Photo: Kerry Brewster


The damage there was recently inspected by Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, as pressure mounts on her government to do something about what is widely acknowledged as an unsustainable water trade.

“Eight years of good work – growing bank vegetation for stability and stimulating insect growth for fish-breeding – has virtually been wiped out,” Mr Norman said.

“Everything we’ve done to improve the Goulburn since the millennium drought has been overridden by the need to get consumptive water downstream. It has put us back eight years.”

Pressure on the Murray and Goulburn rivers will increase when thousands of young almond trees reach maturity and require four times more water.


Last week the rice producer Sunrice described the escalation of almond and other permanent tree crop plantings as “illogical” and “unsustainable”.

Even the Almond Board, the peak industry body, has called for a moratorium on new plantations.

“It’s a disaster in the making. No one thought through the almond business model,” Ms Le Feuvre said.

“Victoria’s rivers don’t have the water and will have less in the future under climate change predictions.”



SOURCE:  https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/state/nsw/2019/06/16/murray-river-missing-water/?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Morning%20News%20-%2020190617






  • Land-clearing rates rocketed in year before NSW laws were loosened


Land-clearing in NSW jumped in the year prior to the introduction of native vegetation laws, with one region recording a 40-fold surge in the removal of woody land cover, new government data shows.

Some 20,200 hectares were cleared for crops, pasture or thinning – or about 70 times the size of Sydney’s central business district – in the 2016-17 year, according to information provided to the Herald under freedom of information laws. That rate was more than twice the annual average over the previous seven years.

Illegal clearing in north-west NSW; rates of native vegetation destruction ramped up in the two years to June 2017.
Illegal clearing in north-west NSW; rates of native vegetation destruction ramped up in the two years to June 2017.


Forestry also accelerated in 2016-17, rising two-thirds compared with the average from 2009-10.

The state’s north and west dominated the clearing rates, with the Wentworth local government area in the Riverina registering the fastest increase. Woody vegetation cleared for crops, pasture or thinning leapt to 4454 hectares, up from an average of 112 hectares during the years from mid-2009 to mid-2016, the satellite-sourced data shows.



The data did not identify if any of the clearing was illegal.

‘Very concerning’

Adam Marshall, the NSW Agricultural Minister, attributed the rise in clearing in part to farmers making use of rights to clearing land that were due to end when the new laws were introduced in August 2017.

“These [2016-17] figures relate to clearing rates under old legislation that was repealed after an independent panel found it to be ineffective in improving biodiversity outcomes,” Mr Marshall said, adding 122,000 hectares were conserved elsewhere in the state that year.

Penny Sharpe, Labor’s acting leader, said the land-clearing was “very concerning and needs urgent attention” from the Environment Minister, Matt Kean.

Mr Kean said he understood “people care deeply about conserving our natural landscapes – I do too”.

But biodiversity protection relied “on both public and private land conservation”, he said. The Berejiklian government plans to invest $350 million over five years, and its Biodiversity Conservation Trust had invested $55 million in a little over a year to support 84 agreements with land holders covering 19,000 hectares.

Farmers had been advocating the repeal of native vegetation laws for two decades before they succeeded with the Berejiklian government passing new rules  in mid-2017.
Farmers had been advocating the repeal of native vegetation laws for two decades before they succeeded with the Berejiklian government passing new rules in mid-2017.

‘Perverse outcomes’

Bronwyn Petrie, a beef grazier from Tenterfield and spokeswoman for NSW Farmers, said much of the clearing involved invasive native species or regrowth. Some farmers also “took advantage of better prices” to remove vegetation within their rights.

Ms Petrie said the old laws led “to a lot of really perverse environment outcomes”, and farmers “have waited a long time to get commonsense” vegetation laws.

But environmental groups took a different view, with Kate Smolski – chief executive of NSW Nature Conservation Council – saying the new figures were “more damning evidence that under Premier Berejiklian deforestation and land clearing are out of control”.

“This was just large agribusinesses warming up their bulldozers and chainsaws in anticipation of the new relaxed regime, safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t be held to account for their destruction,” Ms Smolski said.

Oisin Sweeney from the National Parks Association said the figures were also “worrying” because they showed increases in canopy loss to logging in coastal region “even before the impacts of new logging laws passed in late 2018 are apparent”.

“These laws provide for a much greater intensity of logging – including in areas that have been protected for decades,” Dr Sweeney said.

Martine Maron, a biodiversity expert at the University of Queensland, said the surge in clearing before laws were loosened had also been seen in Queensland ahead of weakening of native vegetation protection by the Campbell Newman government.

“It comes with costs – further loss of woodland and forest contributes to the pressures on our already-imperilled biodiversity, emits carbon which increases the cost to society of limiting global warming, and contributes to worsening drought, topsoil loss and water quality decline,” Professor Maron said.


Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.



SOURCE:  https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/land-clearing-rates-rocketed-in-year-before-nsw-laws-were-loosened-20190531-p51t4x.html#comments