A significant feature of the NSW elections has been the voting in the rural seats.
The Nationals are paraded as having had a poor election. This is not obvious – the Nationals got 9.7 per cent of the vote in the Legislative Assembly, a swing against them of 0.9 per cent, in the context of considerable opposition on their traditional turf with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) increasing their share by 3.2 per cent and One Nation up by 1.1 per cent. (One Nation will get over 6 per cent in the Upper House). However, this performance resulted in a loss of two seats (Murray and Barwon) to the SFF together with the confirmation of the gain of Orange that the SFF had previously made. And Dubbo and Wagga also saw major swings against the Nationals to right wing candidates.
The Nationals did well in other seats, notably that of the Deputy Leader John Barilaro. Barilaro, unlike the National’s leadership in Canberra where David Littleproud replaced Barnaby Joyce as Agriculture Minister, but in common with the ascendant SFF had called for action to restore water to irrigation.
This issue and mismanagement of the Murray Darling oin general has been crucial to the electoral losses of the Nationals and the Water Minister has stepped down.
As well as the loss of three Lower House seats, the erosion of support to pro-irrigation parties will also force those Nationals previously complacent about the issue to step up in support of their traditional constituents. In addition, SFF, One Nation and perhaps David Leyonhjelm will likely have 4 Upper House seats and the balance of power. Hence, even if Gladys Berejiklian wins an outright majority in the Lower House a review of Murray Darling irrigation policy in the Murray Darling is inevitable.
This is not before time. As the Australian Environment Foundation report (see Myths of the Murray) demonstrated, green activists have joined with political interest to develop unnatural fresh water lakes at the Murray mouth and to re-allocate water to environmental uses. This has meant taking from farmers vast quantities of water previously used for irrigation. Converting salty to fresh water lakes plus meeting spurious claims about irrigation causing salinity and about distressed trees have resulted in one quarter of the water previously used for irrigation being diverted as “environmental flows”.
The Greens and the ALP were the means by which environmental activism pushed such profoundly unproductive policies, and they have policy goals that would go much further in reducing irrigation. In developing the current plan, they were joined by urban Liberals and, as evidenced by David Littleproud’s support, this even infected the Nationals, with the adoption of diluted versions of the policy proposals put forward by green left radicals.
Some $13 billion of government funding has been wasted on reducing Murray Darling water available for irrigation at a cost of about $3 billion a year in lost production. The Murray Darling Basin is home to over 40 per cent of the nation’s agricultural output and a source of raw produce to other industries as well as contributing a major share of the 15 per cent of exports derived from agriculture.
Urban indifference and virtue signalling with irrigation has had severely deleterious consequences on the economy as a whole and especially on the Murray Darling region. Hopefully, the NSW election will prove to be a turning point.