THE desperate plight of Upper Murray beef producers Peter and Gina Sutherland has reached the federal Parliament.
A third-generation farmer whose family pioneered the Murray grey breed in the early 1900s, Mr Sutherland and his wife are locked in a bitter dispute with Goulburn-Murray Water over 400 hectares of land that has been flooded for two years.
The water authority leases the land to the Sutherlands and has demanded payment, even though the land at Thologolong cannot be used due to the Murray River’s present high level.
Member for Indi Sophie Mirabella went into bat for the Sutherlands this week during a speech to Parliament regarding the proposed Murray-Darling Basin plan.
Ms Mirabella said the 2750 gigalitres to be recovered for the environment under the plan would leave prime grazing land in parts of the Upper Murray, including Thologolong, permanently flooded.
Mrs Sutherland said they couldn’t sustain their 400-head of cattle without access to the leased land.
“The solution is fairness and negotiation,” she said.
“We don’t mind paying if we’ve got use of that land.
“I know people say farmers never stop complaining, but we have really had it tough since 1997.
“At our age we will never recoup the money we had to spend in the drought to keep the cattle alive.
“Realistically, we are ready to retire.”
The Sutherlands are charged about $8000 each year, but their most recent payment totalled close to $14,000 as they fell behind in their repayments.
“We admit we were late paying, but we weren’t the only ones,” she said.
“You just don’t come up with $14,000.
“We spent $48,000 on hay from Queensland to keep the cattle alive in the drought.
“It doesn’t matter if it is $2, $10 or $1000.
“If you are not getting the goods you are paying for you shouldn’t have to pay.
“This is money for jam for them the way things are at the moment.”
The Sutherlands have held the grazing licence for nearly two decades and it comes up for renewal next year.
They will sign up again, but the battle shows no signs of abating.
Lake Hume is close to capacity and water has reached places in the upper reaches never seen since its opening.
A similar story with the Dartmouth Dam compounds the problem.
Approval of the basin plan in Canberra will be a triple whammy for the Upper Murray.
“When the weir comes up and down the land is not a problem,” Mr Sutherland said.
“You wouldn’t know there has been water on it with no silt, no nothing.”
Lake Hume only has to be at 67 per cent capacity and the land in question goes under.
“If they let the water out tomorrow, it would be March or April next year before we can even get on that land,” he said.
A spokesman from Goulburn-Murray Water said the authority respected the privacy of its customers and won’t comment on individual circumstances.
“Grazing licences generally incorporate an ‘above and below full supply’ which recognises when a storage is above full supply level there is reduced area to graze,” the spokesman said.
“When it is below full supply area there is a greater area to graze.”