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18/03/2009

Neighbours knock South Australian water bid

Monique Paschke, The Murray Pioneer , Wednesday 11 March

The Riverland's closest irrigation neighbour has slammed South Australia's recently announced consitutional water challenge.

The move, which could reach the High Court, has been launched as a 'last resort' by the Rann Government to help struggling Riverland irrigators and the dwindling Lower Lakes.

But Mildura Rural City Council mayor Glenn Milne has thrown his support behind Victoria's 4% cap on trading water licences out of Victorian districts, while also accusing the South Australian Government of "bickering".

"Removing or increasing caps and allowing open slather on water trade is not the magic bullet that is going to solve the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin," Milne said. "It will simply tear apart the fabric of irrigation communities.

"This sort of bickering and threats to take the matter to the High Court (are) not going to help anyone, least of all those in all states, and most importantly the people who depend on the river system or the environment."

Milne applauded a call by Victorian Premier John Brumby for money to be spent on infrastructure rather than High Court disputes.

"What we should be looking at is more efficient water use, making savings and putting them back into the river system and ensuring that all water that is used for irrigation generates the most benefit," he said.

"Our community has every right to be disappointed by the comments that South Australian Premier Mike Rann has made in relation to Victorian water policy, particularly at a time when irrigation upgrades are on the cards throughout the state."

While Central Irrigation Trust chief executive Jeff Parish said he was not interested in "trading blow for blow" with Victoria, he did say he was satisfied with the South Australian move.

"Well we need to address the fact that in New South Wales and South Australia we are facing open trade, and in Victoria there are some limits imposed and we need to have it so it is fair," Parish said.

"At the end of the day I don't mind how we get it addressed. I would prefer that at the forthcoming COAG (Council of Australian Goverments) meeting Victoria would agree to have the same rules as everyone else. But, if they are not prepared to go down that path then I guess the other states have got to go down other avenues, such as a constitutional challenge.

"I would say that at every opportunity the Minister (for the River Murray Karlene Maywald) has been very responsive and I'm glad that the Premier has decided to act upon it."

Parish said he was unfazed by Victorian claims of inefficient irrigation systems in South Australia.

"I'm not taking much notice of what the Victorian media are saying about irrigation efficiency in SA," he said. "We all know that we (in the Riverland) have some of the best technology for both delivery of water and on-farm use of water in Australia."

Last Friday Maywald released a stern response to Victorian Government claims that South Australia's irrigation system was "leaky".

"(Victorian Water Minister) Tim Holding needs to get out of his office in Melbourne and have a look at what is happening outside of Victoria," Maywald said. "Mr Holding has got it wrong, South Australia does not have leaky open channel irrigation systems. Victoria does. Our channels were piped many years ago. Victoria loses more water per year from their leaky channels than South Australia uses in a whole year on irrigation."

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