The Gillard Government should remove land use restrictions locking up thousands of hectares of previously irrigated land, Coalition Murray-Darling Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said today.
A condition of grants to landowners surrendering water entitlements under the Small Block Irrigators Exit Grant Package was that the land owned by the applicant would not be irrigated for five years.
“With the last grant provided on 30 March 2011, under this program land could be locked away until as late as 2016, with associated detrimental effects to the land and local communities,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“A total of 297 grants under the program locked up 2,747 hectares of land the equivalent of 1,373 Australian rules football ovals that are no longer being used for productive purposes.
“Much of this land now sits unused and, having often not been properly cleared, is a haven for feral animals, pests or a fire risk.
“These locked parcels of land are also scattered holes in the productive footprint of a region that resemble the holes in a block of Swiss cheese.
“Travelling throughout the Basin I’ve heard time and again cases where a neighbour or another irrigator in the district would like to expand their production onto such properties, but is prevented from doing so under these land use restrictions.
“As water has already been recovered by the Commonwealth in exchange for the grant, it makes no sense to lock away land that could be used productively by an irrigator seeking to maximise the efficient use of other remaining water entitlements.
“Murray-Darling reform should be about recovering water for the environment, not dictating to landowners how their land can be used.
“I have written* to Water Minister Tony Burke and hope he will agree to remove what are effectively now simply punitive conditions on farmers, neighbouring farmers and river communities.”
*see letter, below