Murray funds needed to fight farmer rip-off

Murray funds needed to fight farmer rip-off

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has pledged to start working on a multi-million dollar funding package to help Coorong Tatiara farmers become more self-sufficient from the “exorbitant price gouging” of SA Water.

PHOTO: Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie, and Party Leader Nick Xenophon, with Coorong and Tatiara farmers at a recent public meeting at Coonalpyn.

The package would include a campaign to allow the growers to access water efficiency funding from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The money would be used for matched grants or low interest loans to assist growers’ transition from using the SA Water pipeline to projects such as small-scale desalination plants, lined catchments or water pipelines from Lake Albert or viable groundwater sources.

“Something has to change. Growers have been slugged with huge price increases every year since 2008 and are being crippled by annual bills of more than $100,000 just to water stock, said Rebekha Sharkie, the Party’s Federal Spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

“On a hot day farmers are paying about $80 on stock water - that’s the equivalent cost of a new lamb and that’s unsustainable.”

Rebekha’s pledge on behalf of the Nick Xenophon Team comes after she hosted a public meeting at the Coonalpyn Hall last week that focused water security.

More than 50 landholders attended the meeting which was chaired by Henry Angas from the Coorong Water Security Advisory and facilitated by the Coorong Tatiara Local Action Plan and the Coorong District Council.

Guest speaker at the meeting was Party Leader Nick Xenophon.

"With the most expensive stock water in the nation, these farmers are being gouged by SA Water," Nick said.

"It’s become a cash cow that’s hurting the economics of raising real cows and the viability of battling farmers.”

Nick also said that there was an urgent need to seek Murray-Darling Basin Plan funds for alternative mechanisms to alleviate dependence on SA Water and its crushing prices, including lined catchments and small-scale desalination plants. 

“The rules for Murray-Darling Basin Authority funding need to be flexible enough for these farmers to access funds for these projects that will ease pressure on the Murray,and on the bottom-line of struggling farmers," Nick said.

Farmers in this district are completely reliant on the 143km-long SA Water pipeline from Tailem Bend to Keith because of the ancient geography of the area and its hyper-saline groundwater.

The pipeline was introduced to the district in the 1960s, opening up the area to agricultural production. Most of the land is only suitable for grazing.

“South Australia’s future prosperity lies in the regions and so we must ensure the regions can farm, including all pipeline-reliant communities in SA,” Rebekha said.

“The extortion of these farmers must stop.”

Rebekha called the public meeting after accepting an invitation from the Coorong Tatiara Local Action Plan to tour the district in October and see the water challenges first-hand.

“I wanted to run a workshop-style meeting where we could hear directly from the community about the issues they face and, more importantly, what the solutions should be,” Rebekha said.

“I will be working through the feedback from the meeting to formulate exactly what the community is looking for in terms of government policy but what Nick and I heard last week is that the community is tired of being ignored, tired of being told by SA Water their needs were not ‘significant’ and they want secure, reliable and affordable water.

“They are not looking for hand-outs, they are looking for hand-ups so they can transition to water self-sufficiency, something every South Australian should be supporting.

“This is something that State and Federal Governments should be working on together.

"I will be taking the community's concerns directly to the Prime Minister as the Acting Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and to Ian Hunter, the State Minister for Water and the River Murray."