River Group condemns lack of Diversion Limit consultation

July 01, 2017

No details or direct consultation on Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) projects have been shared with those most affected, according to the leaders of two district representative groups.

They say it is leading to a strong response from riparian landholders, from the Hume Dam to the Southern Riverina and on to Deniliquin.

According to Murray River Action Group, Murray River landholders and businesses are angry they have not been consulted nor been given opportunity to provide input before Murray Darling Basin state ministers endorsed the final package of SDL Adjustment Mechanism projects on Friday, June 16.

MRAG chair Richard Sargood, who represents landholders from Hume Dam to Yarrawonga Weir, said decisions have been made that will severely affect the management and viability of riparian businesses and these appear to have been sacrificed for the perceived benefit of wider political and industry benefits.

‘‘We haven’t been consulted and no conclusions can be drawn that these are ‘done deals’,’’ Mr Sargood said.

‘‘These projects are concept plans with absolutely no detail in many of them. We understand this, but the reality is a whole lot of assumptions are being made by people who aren’t affected by the decisions.

‘‘Statements from industry groups welcoming state governments endorsement of projects makes no mention that the people most affected by a large number of the decisions haven’t been properly consulted or in fact have agreed with them.’’

Riparian landholder and Murray Valley Private Diverters vice chair Louise Burge said direct requests for meaningful consultation with affected parties on Murray Valley projects prior to them being submitted have been ignored.

‘‘There are a lot of issues at risk right along the Murray and Edward Wakool River system,’’ she said.

‘‘Changes to the way these river systems currently flow will have a variety of consequences on rural businesses and people’s lives.’’

Mr Sargood confirmed there had been no consultation with his group, and yet announcements are being made which he says ‘‘have huge consequences for our livelihoods’’.

‘‘The Murray River Action Group and other affected landholders, caravan parks and businesses have not been consulted nor included in this decision making process that will undoubtedly severely impact our daily lives,’’ he said.

A communique released following the meeting of basin ministers on June 16 outlined that basin governments have identified ways to achieve environmental outcomes and reduce the impacts of floods.

The claim made on efforts to reduce flooding risks have been disputed by both Mr Sargood and Mrs Burge.

‘‘It is unfortunate that those providing advice on this statement are by people who don’t understand the real risks and are not affected by the decisions. Added to this, departmental changes in New South Wales mean many people with years of experience have gone,’’ Mr Sargood said.

‘‘For six years we have constantly said before governments buy up all this water under the Basin Plan, they should have a plan for how it’s to be delivered. Now we are in that stage.

‘‘The recent October 2016 flood should also highlight no matter how much water is bought up, it won’t clear the Murray Mouth. Three weeks after the catastrophic floods in the Murray and these flood flows reached the Murray Mouth, dredging of sand has to be resumed.

‘‘It highlights just how poorly designed this whole approach has been.’’

It is believed a paper outlining ‘The lessons learnt from the 2016 floods’ was presented to last week’s ministerial meeting, and Mr Sargood said again there appeared to be no input into this report from those affected by these floods.

‘‘This paper has not been made public, its source is unknown and decisions appear to have been made presumably using this report as a reference, yet this paper is without peer review,’’ he said.

‘‘The MDBA have a really bad history relating to consultation and communication and this communique from the ministerial meeting only adds to this appalling track record of consultation with people affected by decisions.’’

Mrs Burge and Mr Sargood said the process now rests on how state governments treat the affected parties.

‘‘Forging ahead with decisions and empty promises of consultation is not going to achieve the ministerial council objectives,’’ Mrs Burge said.

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