Southern Riverina Irrigators has withdrawn its financial support of the NSW Irrigators’ Council, in a move described by some media as ‘‘breaking ranks’’ and jeopardising unity among irrigator groups.
SRI chair Chris Brooks said the decision was made when the state’s peak irrigators’ body refused to revise proposals on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that he feels will negatively impact on the southern basin.
Mr Brooks said the NSWIC was given an ultimatum to withdraw the potentially damaging proposal, or risk losing SRI’s $65,000 annual contribution.
He said the refusal to respond to SRI’s concerns was the latest in a long line of complaints about NSWIC’s representation, particularly for the southern basin.
‘‘In the few years I have been involved in water, southern basin groups have failed to get issues on the New South Wales Irrigators’ agenda, and I feel we have failed to get representation from the board on issues.
‘‘We pay $65,000 a year and we don’t seem to be getting much interest in supporting our issues.
‘‘The Irrigators’ Council has done some things in the past that, I believe, have negatively impacted on the Murray Valley.
‘‘Recently they have been discussing proposals to the Murray Darling Basin Authority that would further impact on this valley.
‘‘They did this without consultation with us, and when I wrote a letter asking them to withdraw or we would withdraw our financial support, I got a letter back saying they would not withdraw.’’
Mr Brooks said he had the support of 15 of 16 landholder association delegates of SRI to remove its financial support of the NSWIC.
‘‘We feel there are more relevant issues that we could be spending that money on; issues that are more relevant to the southern basin,’’ Mr Brooks said.
‘‘There have been some concerns raised with me from growers who feel we may not get adequate representations to the state now, but I know where Sydney is and feel we can still get good representation.
‘‘We still have a seat at the table, we’re just not funding them.’’
The Southern Riverina Irrigators decision came the same day the South Australian government released its royal commission report into the Basin Plan.
Among the 746-pages in the report were many criticisms, including the weak measurement of so-called floodplain harvesting, leaving it ‘‘a virtually data-free zone’’ in parts of NSW and Queensland.
‘‘All our problems are because of the water going to South Australia,’’ Mr Brooks said.
‘‘The northern rivers once supplied 40 per cent of the water, but since the start of floodplain harvesting there has been a shortfall of water coming down the Darling.
‘‘As a result, 100 per cent of our water — leaving us on a zero per cent water allocation — is now going down, with complete disregard to constraints and causing environmental damage along the Murray as it goes.’’
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair has reportedly downplayed the move by SRI, telling the Sydney Morning Herald it was part of a ‘‘concerted effort’’ by groups seeking to oust incumbent National MPs in the upcoming state and federal elections.