Burke rejects farmers’ claims water reduction will reduce profit

Tony Burke has slammed the suggestions from farmers that the reduction in irrigation water supplies will severely damage vital food production.

The Water Minister made the comments in regards to cotton and wine grapes, saying they are not pivotal to food security.

The Australia first outlined the concerns of growers in the Riverina area, who fear the 20 to 30 per cent reduction in water entitlements under Burke’s water reforms will make production unprofitable and severely impact the rural town of Deniliquin.

Burke told the ABC’s Insiders program he did not think irrigators or environmentalists would be happy when the plan to restore the river health in the Murray-Darling Basin was released on 28 November.

Stakeholders have already been told by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to expect a total reduction of 2800 gigalitres of water from the existing 13,600GL of water legally extracted currently by irrigators from the Murray-Darling Basin’s rivers, creeks and canals.

"But I think we’ve got to be a bit careful with this whole food security argument with the Murray-Darling Basin," Burke said yesterday.

"Realistically, cotton is not a big part of the food supply and grapes, while I’m the first to say (wine) is a great product, it’s hardly a staple food that is part of the solution to global hunger."

Burke said not everyone is going to be pleased by the changes, but that they are necessary for the overall health of the basin.

"It’s the nature of the reform; this is not an issue where there ever has been or ever will be a consensus position," he said.

"So no matter what number [of gigalitres to be purchased back] the authority comes forward with, there will be arguments from the environmental side that the number should be higher [and] there’ll be arguments from the irrigation side the number should be lower."

He said water-dependent communities such as Deniliquin will be given priority adjust to the change, with the buyback "transition" period lasting until 2019.

Burke has accepted an invitation to attend a planned protest by farmers in Griffith on 29 November.

Image: The Murray-Darling Basin

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