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Murray-Darling plan would spark exodus, says report

ANALYSIS by Independent Economics shows more than 2000 jobs and annual income of $194 million would be wiped out in the Murrumbidgee region alone if the Murray-Darling Basin Plan goes ahead in its present form.

The research, commissioned by stakeholders in the Murrumbidgee region, also shows gross domestic product in the area would fall 9 per cent, giving many rural residents a powerful incentive to move out.

The NSW Irrigators' Council and the National Farmers' Federation said the research vindicated their claim the draft basin plan would cost regional jobs. ''Make no mistake, the proposed basin plan is going to hurt regional communities, and this report is evidence of that,'' the NFF president, Jock Laurie, said.

The report comes as submissions to the long-running process flooded in yesterday, the last day of public consultation.

About 500 submissions were lodged yesterday, bringing the total to more than 8000.

South Australia urged 71 changes to the plan, arguing that the current plan to return 2750 gigalitres of water to the Murray River each year would not be enough to ensure the river's survival.


Victoria has joined NSW in opposing its plan on behalf of irrigation communities, which would be negatively affected by cuts to water entitlements.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the federal government ''should not be banking on [Greens'] support for the multi-billion plan in its current form''. ''It is absolutely imperative for the survival of South Australia that this plan doesn't go ahead as is,'' she said. ''This plan is going to lock in failure, lock in failure for the river, lock in failure for South Australia.''

The Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, said the Independent Economics analysis exposed the ''dodgy'' modelling relied upon by the government. ''The government's economic modelling of the basin plan is a complete farce,'' he said. ''It assumes that no irrigator will leave the region after water is bought back from a community.''

A group of more than 60 academics issued a joint submission to the review last week urging the federal government to go further, saying increasing the target of 2570 gigalitres would have wide-ranging ecological and economic benefits.

The academics said increasing environmental flows to 2800 gigalitres a year would cost $542 million to irrigation, but would bring $3-$4 billion in benefits for habitat ecosystems, $1 billion in carbon sequestration benefits, $330 million for ''aesthetic appreciation'', $30 million in ''avoidance of damage'' and $160 million in tourism benefits.

Meanwhile, the National Irrigator's Council rejected the plan in its current form, saying the council reserved the right to withdraw from the process if its concerns were not addressed.

The chairman, Stewart Ellis, said irrigators were committed to the reform process but that reform should take a ''sensible path that does not destroy communities and industries''.

"The NIC has found that the Draft Basin Plan in its current form is undeliverable and without changes there is the very real risk of catastrophic environmental, social and economic mistakes being made.''

It wants less water diverted from basin communities and assurances about how the water recovered for the environment will be used.