Councils have begged the Albanese government to reconsider its plan for more water buyback, after watching hundreds of jobs, families and school students leave their already small communities last time the policy was enforced.
Mayors and council representatives from across the country have told a Senate inquiry they feared for the survival of their communities if the government reintroduced water buybacks to complete the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The overwhelming majority of councils, industries and community groups agree with the government's proposal to give the basin plan more time and money. But regional advocates are equally united in their opposition to the prospect of more buybacks.
Murrumbidgee Council general manager John Scarce said agriculture was the primary driver of economic growth in the region, contributing $167.5 million to the economy and 45 per cent of employment.
But the region "has not, and possibly never will" recover from the previous round of water buybacks.
Griffith City Council general manager Brett Stonestreet said buybacks would result in "enormous detrimental" impacts on regional communities and begged the government to look at the bigger picture.
"Political opportunism wants the plan to be finalised in the shortest possible time frame regardless of the long term impacts for the people who live in regional Australia," Mr Stonestreet wrote.
Bourke Shire mayor Barry Hollman said irrigated agriculture and horticulture was one of the community's biggest economic drivers, so the impact of buybacks goes well beyond the farm gate.
"If the industry takes another hit, the entire local economy will take another hit that it can ill afford," Cr Hollman said.
Irrigators and related businesses have been able to remain viable despite "prolonged recent stress points". But further water reductions would remove "bounce back options" and force social capital to leave Bourke, cursing the region to a lower standard of living.
"A further permanent reduction in water is likely to permanently constrain any economic and social recovery of Bourke, and entrench and significantly worsen existing high levels of social disadvantage," Cr Hollman said.
Balonne Shire Council, centred around St George in south-west Queensland, recalled the dark days that followed the first round of water buybacks.
Dirranbandi, an area of 700 people before the buybacks, lost almost a third of its irrigation area, and 15 per cent of its jobs, while census data shows school enrolments have dropped by more than 50 per cent in five years.
In nearby St George, jobs in agriculture dropped by more than 15 per cent and non-agriculture private sector jobs were down more than 20 per cent.
About one-in-10 jobs disappeared across the local government area, with transport (70 per cent loss in full-time equivalent jobs) and manufacturing (47 per cent loss) hit the hardest.
"We also estimate that 197 full time skilled workers were lost across our region in this period, including vital community leaders and volunteers," the council stated in its submission.
The council's modelling suggests further buybacks will lead to another 72 direct and 41 indirect job losses, representing 8 per cent of the region's 1400 full-time jobs.
"This does not take into consideration properties selling and multi-generational families migrating out of the region, which we saw in previous water buybacks," the council stated.
"The net impact of this would be further population and workforce loss.
"We believe young families will be the key demographic impacted, which would have further profound effects on essential services, such as education and health, and professional services, such as banks and accounting."
Several submissions pointed to an independent report by Frontier Economics, which was commissioned by the Victorian government last year, which found that if buybacks were used to recover all outstanding water, the economic output of the southern basin would drop by $855m annually and cost 1500 jobs.
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