The release of the Guide to the Proposed Murray–Darling Basin Plan created considerable angst, with vocal dissent expressed at meetings in rural centres. Irrigation lobbyists raised especially strenuous objections to the Guide claiming the cuts to water availability would be too severe and the flow on effects to the wider community depicted as calamitous. Arguably, the response by those promoting reform has been relatively muted and given the historical strength and political awareness of irrigation and farmer groups, their criticisms were not at all surprising. Arguably, reformists appear to have been taken by surprise and stymied in the communication of counter arguments, apparently relying exclusively on the potency of the scientific evidence. In this paper, we seek to explore this issue by focussing on the role of irrigation lobbyists and reformists during this latest phase of water policy development. We specifically employ the typology of rhetorical argumentation developed by Hirschman (1991) and endeavour to trace the line of argumentation against this framework. We conclude that the debate witnessed to date has followed relatively predictable patterns and call for greater scrutiny of the motives behind the rhetoric.