Many of the farmers said they were pleased Water Minister Lisa Neville had come to listen to their concerns, but they are sceptical the new project delivery structure for the major irrigation project she announced could do much to improve the situation.
Ms Neville announced the establishment of a Project Control Group for the Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) Connections Project.
The $2 billion project is the irrigation infrastructure project in Australia and since 2007, it has aimed to boost irrigator productivity and deliver water savings as part of Victoria’s contribution to the Murray Darling Basin Agreement, without reducing water available for irrigation.
The Project Control Group will be chaired by project delivery expert Mike Walsh, who was involved with the Sunraysia irrigation modernisation project and will also include Campbell Fitzpatrick who has a long-standing connection to northern Victorian farming and Margot Henty, a GMW board member.
There will be two non-voting members of this group – project director Frank Fisseler and Stakeholder Consultative Committee chairman Richard Anderson.
Ms Neville said the new Control Group provided new expertise involved in resetting the Connections Project, as well as strong, clear links to local knowledge. The group will report directly to the Minister and the GMW board.
The Victorian Government also released a report on the consultation process designed to capture community input into the reset of Goulburn Murray Water’s Connections Project.
Feedback from more than 200 water users was obtained during open day sessions in Numurkah, Shepparton, Kyabram, Rochester, Kerang and Boort.
Ms Neville said the vast majority of respondents said something had to be done to amend the project but it couldn’t be abandoned.
“I’m confident this will get the project back on track,” Ms Neville said.
Daniel Mogan producing lambs and walnuts at Kyabram and he said more wholesale changes were needed to the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the Connections Project.
“This Project Control Group is just window dressing,” he said.
Peter Hacon is a Tongala grazier and said there was a lot of passion and frustration on show and the meeting and the announcements would have done little to calm people who are apprehensice about the project. He said a reset involved more uncertainty and it could be divisive because ultimately it might connect some irrigators and not others.
Ms Neville said in discussions with GMW, there had been a reluctance to use measures to force people to join the project, however there were measures in the Water Act that gave water bodies these powers and if individual irrigators were holding back the roll out of the project, it had to be an available tool.
Wade Northausen, also of Tongala, said governments were taking more and more water out of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, and ultimately it would make the system non-viable, and the local communities it supported.