Farmers fail to stop water entitlements leak

MORE than 100 Lower Murray farmers who demanded compensation for reduced groundwater entitlements have been sent home from court with an even bigger bill.

About 113 farmers took the NSW State Government to court but failed to stop the gradual reduction of their water entitlements until June 30, 2016.

Irrigator Alan Arnold led an appeal, along with 107 primary producers, to attempt to have the original decision overturned.

The case has ramifications for the agriculture industry across Australia and sets a precedent in favour of governments being allowed to introduce new groundwater management plans.

The Lower Murray Groundwater Source was declared a groundwater management area in 2001 in an effort to stop unsustainable levels of water being extracted.

The Murray Groundwater Management Committee was subsequently established but did introduce a water-sharing plan until 2006.

Arnold and his legal team argued the 83.7GL annual limit to be introduced in 2016 was based on a flawed study by environmental consulting firm Ecoseal.

They also contended the presiding judge had disregarded the social and economic impact of the limits on struggling farmers.

NSW Court of Appeal Judge Murray Tobias rejected every ground of appeal.

"Essentially, the appellants' case originally rested on the failure of the minister, prior to making the plan, to conduct a socio-economic study on a farm-by-farm basis," he said.

"Obviously, that would be one way by which the socio-economic impacts of the proposals could be measured.

"But it was not the only way.

"The minister was only required to have 'due regard' to the socio-economic impacts: he was not required to eliminate them although, in fact, he significantly mitigated them.

"In my view, none of the appellants' grounds of appeal succeed.

"Each of the challenges to the primary judge's upholding of the validity of the plan should be rejected.

"I therefore propose that the appeal be dismissed with costs."


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