Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Water council chairman Richard Anderson said he was surprised at what appeared to be a sudden change, with former spokesman Peter Walsh taking over the new Decentralisation portfolio.
“I always thought it was that close to Walshy’s heart that he would keep it as long as he was in politics,” Mr Anderson said. “People would ask, ‘why now ?’ because water is a big portfolio.”
Mr Anderson said the Murray Darling Basin Plan was the key area Ms Ryan needed to address. “She needs to bring herself up to speed with where we are,” he said. “We want to keep pretty positive pathways and lines of communication open, in terms of what’s good for Victoria, so we can have those frank talks about what we think is right and wrong.”
Loddon Valley irrigator Ken Pattison agreed the change caught him by surprise. “Water and agriculture were two of the plum jobs for the deputy leader and opposition deputy leader and to be throwing that over, to a newcomer, seems to me that Mr Walsh is trying to avoid the mess he left, when they went back into opposition,” Mr Pattison said.
He said he wasn’t “holding his breath” for the National Party to deliver on resolving some of the issues facing the sector. “All politicians toe the line, they all pat the same puppies, they all run with the mantra that the Basin Plan has been agreed to by everybody and it has to be delivered on time and on budget.”
Central Goulburn Water Services Committee (WSC) chairman Peter Hacon said he’d like to see Ms Ryan meet with irrigators. “The biggest threat is water leaving the area, not only for irrigators, but also for Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW),” Mr Hacon said. “Grassroots advice has not been listened to – they’ve run into trouble in the past because they didn’t listen to us.” He said water was a “massive portfolio – it’s virtually impossible to learn about it, straight up. If she listens to the usual crew, she is going to end up with the usual problem; she needs to broaden her horizons.”
VFF Sunraysia Branch water spokesman Bill McClumpha said Ms Ryan’s appointment was “a surprise move by the Nats.” “Mr. Walsh has been welded to the water portfolio in government and in opposition for decades and it is hard to accept that he would let it go without some pressing imperative.” He said the branch was looking forward to advising Ms Ryan about some of the ongoing issues, facing irrigators in the north-west. That included the election of irrigators to the board of Lower Murray Water, a move he said was promised by Mr. Walsh, when he was in opposition.
“The changes to the carry over rules, following the review, have burnt local irrigators, and those new rules need to be overhauled,” Mr McClumpha said.
He said he was concerned Ms. Ryan's initial comments indicated a “populist” approach to water policy, “more so than the rigorous and informed approach that would be required should she become the next water minister.”
He said it would be a shame if Ms. Ryan persisted in going down the easy road of pointing the finger at water reform and the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) as being the downfall of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID) and the dairy industry.
“It’s in everybody's interests that economic realities aren't pushed to the side, like they are by present state and Federal incumbents. There are other irrigators than dairy farmers and other districts than the GMID. Ms. Ryan must take that on board.”
Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association spokeswoman Jan Beer, Yea, said Ms Ryan must stand up and state the 450GL could not be recovered, or delivered to South Australia, without massive social and economic impacts. “To transfer another 450GL out of the GMID and Southern Connected system will destroy these areas entirely. The current Water minister, Lisa Neville, knows and understands this only too well,” Ms Beer said.
“Nor can that water be delivered - it is technically unachievable and as the spring 2016 floods showed would create millions of dollars damage all down the river systems.”