Gail and I have just had a great trip out to Condobolin, down the Lachlan River to Hillston, across to the Murrumbidgee River at Hay and then across those various watercourses (the Billabong and Yanko Creeks and the Edwards River that flow out of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers), to Deniliquin. We returned via Conargo, Jerilderie, Lockhart, Wagga Wagga and Gundagai. Crops west of Parkes down to Lake Cargilligo were mostly struggling. Across the southern Riverina pastures and crops were wonderful.
Our main purpose was to attend the Annual Ram Sale and the big party put on by FS Falkiner and Sons (the Bell Group) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Wanganella Merino Stud which has had such an impact on the development of the Australian Merino's genetics over all those years. With fabulous sheep prices, (the auctioneers were able to announce at the ram sale that young merino ewes in the Hay Sale that very day had made $280/head) and much better wool prices, the mood was buoyant.
We had a wonderful trip meeting so many old friends including some Sydney and Melbourne based Bell associated friends who were having there first real exposure to the bush and the Merino world in particular. One group asked me to explain why I did not believe that irrigation extractions were having a negative impact on the health of our Murray Darling Basin rivers and why I believed that Commonwealth Government "buy backs" were a waste of taxpayer's money. For once the words seemed to fall out convincingly!
In summary, this is what I said:
- It rains or it doesn't. Our dams fill (or partially fill) or they don't.
- An irrigation license (entitlement) grants the holder the right to extract water when, and only when, there is an allocation.
- Allocations are reviewed several times per year and subject to water availability allocations are made, or not made.
- Allocation decisions are guided by water sharing plans and these plans, in general, specify that critical human needs have first priority, assessed environmental needs have second priority and when, and only when, these priorities are met are decisions made on allocations. These may be anything from nil to 100% of the entitlements specified in licenses.
Given this process the purchase of licenses by Government during say, drought conditions, when there are no allocations is pointless. In fact, the purchase of licenses under all conditions would seem to be pointless. The group appeared to get the logic.