Media statement on Eastern Australian Agriculture water purchase

19 April 2019​

The Project’s 18 April 2019 segment on the Eastern Australian Agriculture water purchase contained a number of factual inaccuracies.

In August 2017, the department purchased 28.7 gigalitres of overland flow water from two Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA) properties, Clyde and Kia Ora, in the Queensland Condamine-Balonne at a cost of $78.9 million.

This purchase represented a unique opportunity to secure a significant volume of water in a catchment of particular strategic importance to achieving the triple-bottom line outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The water has clear and very significant environmental benefits for the Lower Balonne, including the Culgoa and the Narran Lakes—a Ramsar-listed wetland of international importance.

Claims that the water cannot be used off the property are false. Water entitlements are now held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. EAA has decommissioned structures that previously allowed it to capture the water. This water is no longer being used for irrigation or being obstructed by on farm infrastructure thus allowing the water to flow across the land into waterways. It has in-stream environmental values helping to improve the health of the river while being available for use to meet environmental targets downstream.

This acquisition also meant a large portion of the remaining water recovery required for the Condamine–Balonne under the Murray Darling Basin Plan was achieved with minimal impacts on local employment and production – this was independently verified. This strategic purchase enabled the Government to avoid the need to recover the same volume of water from many other smaller businesses in the catchment—such as family farms—which would have had a much greater socio-economic impact. In addition, the town of St George has gained important flood mitigation benefits, as the company has modified structures on its property to enable future flood waters to be better managed.

The department undertook due diligence activities in investigating the proposal, including checking the validity of the licences on offer; and obtaining commercial water valuation advice, independent advice on the possible socio-economic impacts, and advice from the State Government, the MDBA and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

The water purchase was consistent with Commonwealth Procurement Rules and paid at a fair market rate, as informed by independent market valuation. Information about the purchase of the water is listed on AusTender, the Department’s website and on the Senate website to produce documents.

Negotiations on the purchase were conducted directly with Eastern Australian Agriculture.

Background

This acquisition has clear and significant environmental benefits for the Lower Balonne, including the Culgoa and the Narran Lakes - a Ramsar-listed wetland of international importance.

The Narran Lakes Nature Reserve provides important breeding habitat for waterbirds; regular bank-full flow events, which provide movement, feeding and breeding opportunities for many native fish species; and regular overbank flows which connect the river to the mid-floodplain areas, which are critical in supporting healthy woodland vegetation communities.

The Reserve supports 40 migratory bird species, including 19 listed under international agreements. The Wetland is internationally important because of its rarity and naturalness; its significance for waterbirds, supporting large colonial waterbird breeding events of ibis, spoonbills and cormorants; and its importance as a drought refuge for waterbirds.

This water will also be used to enhance the Culgoa Floodplain. This is an important local environmental target, with Coolibahs, black box, and grasses flourishing of the floodplains and brigalow, mulga, western bloodwood and Aboriginal cultural sites also preserved in the Culgoa Floodplain National Park. The park is has more than 150 bird species including 10 honeyeater species, Australia's six species of woodswallow and a number of parrot species.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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