The Ricegrowers' Association's response to South Australia's Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan

5th February 2019

The Ricegrowers’ Association has always argued that social and economic considerations must be given equal weight with environmental consideration in the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP). Consequently we reject the South Australian Royal Commission’s findings that environmental outcomes take precedence over all others.

This year’s Australian rice production is greatly reduced with only 10% of rice growers planting a crop. This outcome relates directly to low or zero water allocations. One of the flow-on consequence to this is the loss of 100 jobs in the Deniliquin and Leeton rice mills to the extreme detriment of both rural communities. The RGA rejects the claim by Commissioner Walker that "The impact of water recovery generally in Basin towns and regional centres has been overstated".

The SA Commission is calling for a complete overhaul of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, including reallocating water from irrigation farming to the environment. The impracticality of starting all over again is profound and ignores the 10 years of negotiation, argument and community turmoil that has got us to this point. It is worth noting that that approximately 4,000GL has been recovered since water reform commenced, including over 2,000 GL in the first half of the MDB Plan’s implementation.

The Basin Plan specifies the sustainable level of consumptive water use for the four states (NSW, VIC, SA and QLD) and the ACT, and therefore was always going to be a compromise, but at its core the Basin Plan aims to balance social, economic and environmental considerations by setting water use to a level that allows for significant improvements to the health of our Basin ecosystems, while at the same time allowing communities and industries to continue to prosper.

To quote two of our industry bodies who have come out against the SA Commission findings:

  • “The Australian people (and the Parliament on their behalf) didn’t vote for a plan that would close down agriculture and country towns. They expected balance, a sustainable level of extractions from the rivers along with life in country communities. The Plan received bi-partisan support because of that.” - National Irrigators Council Media release 31 Jan 2019.
  • “The plan has always been a compromise, despite this it should be implemented. This is a once in a generation reform that corrects 100 years of overuse, and will take a generation to achieve. It deserves the ongoing support of all Australians.” - National Farmers Federation President - Fiona Simpson.

The release of the South Australian Royal Commission has largely overshadowed the MDB Productivity Commission’s five yearly review which made recommendations which involve incremental improvements to the current Basin Plan arrangements. This review addresses a number of current concerns including: management of resources during low flows (a contributor to the recent Menindee fish death event); governance of the Basin and recovery of the remainder of environmental water. The RGA supports the regular review and improvements to the delivery of the Basin Plan and seeks greater transparency in the Government’s administration. 

Healthy rivers are intrinsic to Ricegrowers’ continued capacity to produce food and fibre for their nation. The RGA’s first policy position is that “The RGA supports a healthy Murray Darling Basin”. In their 2018 submission to the MDB Royal Commission, the RGA argues that the current definition of ‘neutral or improved socioeconomic outcomes’ does not recognise the intent of the legislation, i.e. to prevent further social and economic impacts to irrigation communities and industries in the Basin. 

The RGA also wants to acknowledge Commissioner Walker’s finding that rice growers have been demonised unfairly, he states that the attitude of demonising our ” top-notch irrigation farmers … for their thirsty crops” should be rejected.


Media Contact:

RGA Communications Manager, Belinda Lambert -0488 071 165