David Uren, Economics correspondent
HOUSE prices have plunged in the towns along the Murray and Darling rivers since the plan to slash water allocations to irrigators was unveiled last year.
The average fall is 10.5 per cent, based on sales results in 20 regional towns in the Murray-Darling Basin for October and November, since the plan was announced.
An analysis by staff for Coalition regional affairs spokesman Barnaby Joyce shows that some centres have suffered savage falls, including the senator's home town of St George, where average prices were down by 37 per cent. Other towns with big falls include Forbes (24 per cent), Goondiwindi (23 per cent), Swan Hill (18 per cent), Narrabri (14 per cent) and Griffith (13 per cent).
Senator Joyce said the research established that the plan was having economic consequences.
"The greatest risk in irrigation towns is not from Mother Nature but from your sovereign. The flood will come and the flood will go but the loss of water allocations will last forever."
Senator Joyce's office used the detailed house sales figures compiled by RP Data-Rismark, comparing the sales results from October and November to the average prices received through the first nine months of last year.
Senator Joyce said the government needed to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Act to allow the authority to consider the economic consequences of its plan for the river system.
At present the act, introduced by the Howard government, says the authority may consider only environmental issues.
The government and the Greens have opposed any change.
Senator Joyce said the people who would suffer most were those who lived in the towns, not the irrigators.
"The irrigators; when they sell their water licences, move to the coast with their money. The people who are affected are those who never had a licence and are left behind. It is the nurse, the schoolteacher and the chemist, who moved to these towns and borrowed to buy a house, who lose out."
Senator Joyce said there would be riots if such property price falls were caused by government policy in Sydney.
Rismark managing director Christopher Joye said regional housing markets were more vulnerable to adversity, because any fall in demand was not resisted by any shortage of housing, unlike the capital cities. He said regional Australia had experienced no price growth last year.
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