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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray
15 August 2002
Rice growers must be at the centre of the debate over the future of Australia’s greatest water resource, the Murray-Darling Basin, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Sharman Stone, said today.
Opening the Rice Growers Association of Australia annual conference in Renmark, Dr Stone said growers were the single biggest water consumers in the nation’s greatest river basin and so have the most to lose if the resource became degraded.
“The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council is determined to involve all stakeholders in its consultation of what volumes of environmental flows were needed,” Dr Stone said.
“Growers’ contribution to these consultations is essential.”
“Irrigation dominates the basin’s economy and landscape. The basin contains almost three quarters of Australia’s total irrigated crop and pasture area. Almost half the basin’s $23 billion annual economic output is agricultural earnings.”
Dr Stone said an assessment of the basin last year showed that more than 95 per cent of the Murray River’s length was environmentally degraded and 30 per cent had been substantially modified from its original condition.
“Sixteen of the basin’s 35 native fish species are threatened, there are at least 35 endangered birds and 16 endangered mammals adding to a toll of 20 mammals that are already extinct,” Dr Stone said.
“Doing nothing to redress the Murray’s decline is not an option: we have opportunities to restore the Murray’s health and vitality. The issue is not if, but what we need to do to sustain the environment, the economy and our society which is dependent on natural resources.”
Dr Stone commended the growers’ association on embracing environmental responsibility with polices of improving natural resource management, reducing the environmental impacts of salinity, chemicals and energy waste, and sustainable farm management and planning.
She also talked about the need for better information and education about the role of irrigation in the production of Australia’s lowest cost, cleanest, greenest and finest food.
“Our most resourceful farmers are not only sustainable and efficient irrigators, they also farm to protect water quality and biodiversity”, Dr Stone said
Simon Frost 0419 495 468