Murgon businesses may face a recession as bad as one they faced in 2007-2008 when many had “For Sale” signs in their windows.
That grim prediction was made on Thursday when Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington met with representatives from the Barker-Barambah Irrigator Advisory Committee at Bjelke-Petersen Dam.
Mrs Frecklington told the group she had written a letter to Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham on their behalf.
The letter requested him to suspend all Part A (ie fixed cost) payments on local irrigators’ water contracts until SunWater could supply them with water.
But Dr Lynham had rejected her request.
Because of declining water levels at Bjelke-Petersen Dam, irrigators using the Barker-Barambah Water Supply Scheme have received no water since July 1.
Instead, 100 per cent of the dam’s water is being used to supply Murgon and Wondai town residents.
The reduction to a zero allocation has come after two years of cuts, which saw irrigators receive only 17 per cent of their allocations in 2017-18, and just 10 per cent of their allocations last year.
Mrs Frecklington said Barker-Barambah irrigators weren’t the only people in her electorate facing the problem.
Irrigators in the Lockyer Valley have also seen their water allocations slashed in recent years.
“Dr Lynham’s response is deeply disappointing,” Mrs Frecklington said.
“He has refused to listen to the plight of irrigators and refused to follow a precedent set in 2006-2009, and the follow-on costs to this region are enormous.
“The State Government really needs to have a good look at what it’s doing to Queensland’s rural and regional sectors.”
Stuart Nicholson, the chair of the Irrigator Advisory Committee, said he shared Mrs Frecklington’s disappointment and was concerned about effects on the local economy.
“In normal times no-one has a problem paying their irrigation charges because we use our water allocations to grow crops and make our money from doing that,” he said.
“But right now the 160 irrigators in this scheme are paying about $860,000 a year to SunWater in Part A charges but with no water, we can’t produce any crops.”
Stuart said the result meant not only was the local economy losing the profits that come from farming in normal years, but it was also seeing close to $1 million a year disappearing into SunWater’s coffers.
“You take that amount of money out of the economy of a town like Murgon and it really affects a lot of people,” he said.
Mrs Frecklington agreed.
“There are also flow-on effects from this to cattle and pig producers and feedlots, who use some of the crops our irrigators produce to feed their animals,” she said.
“This will push up their own costs, and that’s bad for them, too.”
Mrs Frecklington said the water situation in the irrigation area was already “pretty bleak” with Bjelke-Petersen dam levels sitting at 5.7 per cent.
“This is an agricultural region and we’re used to tough times,” she said.
“Our farmers are professionals who use best practices on their farms and are doing everything they can to get through this drought.
“But this is a case where they genuinely need support. And if Annastacia Palaszczuk wants to show solidarity with the bush, this is the time for her to overrule her Minister and do it.”
Mrs Frecklington said that despite Dr Lynham’s rejection of her request, she had no intention of giving up the fight.
“I’ll be meeting up with Agriculture Minister Mark Furner on Friday where I intend to raise this with him,” she said.
“I’m also going to be asking a Question on Notice about this when parliament sits next week.
“The Government waived Part A charges in 2006-2009 and I don’t see any good reason why they can’t do it again.”