Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts
Will failing to curb carbon pollution cause a 90 per cent drop in agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin by the end of the century?
By Tiffanie Turnbull and Louise Evans
“If we don’t reduce carbon pollution, by the end of the century 90 per cent of the production in the Murray-Darling Basin is going to be gone. That’s 90 per cent of jobs. That’s 90 per cent of farms [in the Murray-Darling Basin]. That’s 90 per cent of the food in our supermarkets.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young. April 21, 2019.
South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young claims the cost of inaction on global warming and carbon pollution is far greater than the cost of the Green’s policy to get out of coal and switch to 100 per cent renewables by 2030. 
AAP FactCheck examined Senator Hanson-Young’s claim that 90 per cent of agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin would be lost if Australia fails to reduce carbon pollution, resulting in 90 per cent of the nation’s food being affected.
AAP FactCheck found Senator Hanson-Young’s claim to be only somewhat true due to a number of errors.
The Murray-Darling Basin spans an area of over one million square kilometres in south-eastern Australia. It’s home to 40 per cent of all Australian farms or 50,900 farms which produce 50 per cent of the nation’s irrigated agriculture business, according to the 2014-15 Murray-Darling Basin Authority annual report. 
Irrigated agriculture businesses are farms that need water to produce crops.
The only study AAP FactCheck could find that examined the impact of climate change on the basin through to the end of the century was the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, commissioned by the federal government with the support of all states and territories.
The review, led by renowned economist and researcher Ross Garnaut, examined the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy.
The Garnaut Review found that without mitigating greenhouse gasses, the Murray-Darling Basin would lose around half its yearly irrigated agricultural output by mid-century and about 92 per cent by 2100, due to drought, decreased rainfall and runoff. 
Greenhouse gasses can be reduced by a transition to renewable energy and changed farming and forestry practices. 
Senator Hanson-Young’s office confirmed the source of her claim was the Garnaut Review which shows the first part of her quote that 90 per cent of agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin will disappear by the century’s end, is true.
Senator Hanson-Young went on to say failure to reduce greenhouse gasses would also result in a 90 per cent loss of jobs and farms in the Murray-Darling and 90 per cent of food in supermarkets.
The senator’s office told AAP FactCheck she was referring to 90 per cent of jobs and farms in the Murray-Darling Basin.
However, the loss of 90 per cent of production in the Murray-Darling Basin does not equate to 90 per cent loss of jobs, farms and food in Australian supermarkets.
Murray-Darling Basin Authority research from June 2018 into the employment impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on 40 communities across NSW, Victoria and South Australia found many factors affected employment in the region.
Looking only at the farming sector from 2000-2016, the research found employment declined by 37 per cent, with only seven per due to the basin plan of water recovery which was introduced in 2012. 
Regarding food production, Australia Bureau of Statistics research shows the basin produces about one-third of the nation’s food. .
Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s own data also repeatedly states the Basin produces one-third of Australia’s food. .
Based on this data, the second part of Senator Hanson-Young’s claim that failure to reduce carbon pollution will affect 90 per cent of jobs, farms and food in our supermarkets is false.
AAP FactCheck found Senator Hanson-Young’s claim to be somewhat true.
While 90 per cent of irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin is predicted to disappear without a reduction in carbon pollution, that doesn’t account for 90 per cent of jobs and farms and the nation’s food.
- Somewhat True - Mostly accurate, but there is more than one error or problem.
1. ‘Speers on Sunday’. Sky News TV. April 21, 2019: https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/1119731679105433600
2. ‘Annual report 2014-15: Basin Statistics’. Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Australian Government: https://www.mdba.gov.au/annual-reports/annual-report-2014-15/about-mdba/basin-statistics
3. ‘Chapter 6: Climate change impacts on Australia’. The 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, by Ross Garnaut. Department of Climate Change: http://www.garnautreview.org.au/chp6.htm
4. ‘Greenhouse gas reduction options’, by Anita Talberg, Dr Alex St John, Science, Technology, Environment and Resources and Kai Swoboda. Parliament of Australia: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook44p/GreenhouseGas
5. ‘Basin Plan employment impacts quantified in new research’, Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Australian Government. June 19, 2018: https://www.mdba.gov.au/media/mr/basin-plan-employment-impacts-quantified-new-research
6. ‘Murray-Darling Basin Plan: How $13b of investment can make a difference to the environment’, by David Claughton, Tom Nancarrow, Cherie von Hörchner, Cassandra Hough and Warwick Long. ABC. July 1, 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2018-07-01/murray-darling-basin-plan-enviroment-iconic-sites/9772392
7. ‘Basin facts for kids’. Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Australian Government: https://www.mdba.gov.au/education/kids-all-ages/basin-facts-kids
- First published April 24, 2019 16:04 AEST