The drought assistance announced by the Federal Government this week is more than just bundles of cash aimed at helping out ruralists in need. It’s a reform package by another name.

Farmers are blamed by most urbanites and academics for land degradation. Until recently, to convert a crown lease to freehold the land had to be cleared – a condition still on many original land title deeds. But rather than being the fault of farmers, it’s the fault of a succession of state and federal governments who refuse to come to grips with the Australian landscape.

The Murray River irrigation system was installed to maintain a constant supply of water to a huge agricultural area to maintain crops, orchards, dairies, and to drought proof agriculture in the region. And it worked, up until now.

Initially water quotas were hopelessly over-allocated to everyone in the system by a burgeoning bureaucracy keen for income from each unit traded and in which the bureaucracy determines the costs. The idea is that the “most efficient” would have the capital to buy water in lean times and they would yield the most dollars profit per unit of water.

The corporate sector was drawn to higher catchments in Queensland where allocations could be caught and stored from reliable wet season rain. In dry years this leaves little for downstream, and now every flow is captured by a complicated system of lochs, weirs and dams in an effort to sell water to customers, some of whom also capture water for resale.

Any water savings made by piping water do not go back into the river – they have to be traded. That brings us to the package announced by the federal government this week, aimed at buying out “inefficient farmers on marginal land” — it will see even these farms put into more intensive production.

With reasonable food prices, it is unlikely that family farmers, with diversified and existing infrastructure, will not be automatically replaced by the corporate sector.

Yet the Victorian and Federal Governments are looking to severely cut water allocations to accelerate this “reform” with zero allocations. It will kill off orchards and vineyards established over decades. This “economic reform” in the form of cash payouts is precisely what taxpayers are being asked to subsidise.