Cautious support for Plan review

Irrigators say they're the refugees of the Riverina


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CANBERRA RALLY: Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks speaking at the Barooga, NSW rally, aimed at pausing the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

CANBERRA RALLY: Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks speaking at the Barooga, NSW rally, aimed at pausing the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

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MP's back Murray Darling Plan review, as irrigators head to Canberra

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Federal coalition MP's from both sides of the Murray River have backed a review of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

But both Farrer Liberal MP, Sussan Ley, in NSW, and Murray Nationals MP Damian Drum, Victoria, stopped short of endorsing calls to Pause the Plan.

The Pause push is being led by NSW farmers lobby group, Southern Riverina Irrigators, backed by other regional farming and community groups.

"I don't believe pausing the plan is the right way to go," Mr Drum said.

"With a looming (Federal) election and the possibility of the other mob being in control, there is a real and genuine risk they would create a bigger amount of environmental water."

Mr Drum said he was talking to Federal Water Minister David Littleproud about how a review could be carried out.

"We need a review that clearly shows Melbourne and Sydney the damage that's been caused to Murray Darling Basin communities, based on what it's taken to create a healthy river," Mr Drum said.

"I fully agree we do need a review that will clearly show, in a totally unbiased manner, that in producing these healthy rivers, we have developed some very sick communities."

Ms Ley said it might be time to carry out a review, with the introduction of the Sustainable Diversion Limit projects later this year.

"I would like to see an independent rural consultant, with experience working in the Basin," Ms Ley said.

Farmers needed to have confidence such a review would be independent.

"A consultant would look at how the entitlements and allocations are managed and do that review with a view to changing the rules," she said.

"Now changing the rules may involve amending the Water Act, and that's fine.

"There's every reason why we have to have a serious look at what's happened to date and what might need to change.

"But flexibility to change the rules could make a huge difference to outcomes."

Canberra call

Southern Riverina irrigators have been running a series of public meetings, across the region, calling for the Murray Darling Basin plan to be paused and an independent review  carried out into it.

Now, SRI chairman Chris Brooks said if senior ministers continued to refuse to come to the region, farmers would head to the national capital to voice their concerns.

"Politicians won't come to our region, they won't come south of Griffith, or go north of Shepparton," Mr Brooks said.

"We'll have to go and yell and scream at them.

"We are just feeling like refugees of the Riverina - we have been forgotten and badly represented at both a State and Federal level."

We are just feeling like refugees of the Riverina - we have been forgotten and badly represented at both a State and Federal level. - Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks

Mr Brooks said the community was "in the process of putting in our own politicians.

SRI backed the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate for Murray, Helen Dalton, who won the seat from the National Party, with a 27.7 per cent swing, in Saturday's NSW election.

It was also behind Farrer independent candidate Albury mayor, Kevin Mack.

Read more: The Land readers have their say on what matters ahead of NSW election

"It's prudent for us to go to Canberra

"We would love to take a couple of thousand trucks and headers and make a real nuisance of ourselves, but we are conscious of the rules and legislation, under the Terrorist Act.

"We may run into a fair bit of opposition.

He said he had applied for a permit, for a rally, before the Federal Budget sitting.

"There are mental health issues in this area, roads and phone services are abysmal, but water is a key.

"This whole region was built at the foot of these dams - there are two massive dams (Hume and Dartmouth) of almost three million gigalitres each and the environment has taken one of them."

Mr Brooks said the community was "in the process of putting in our own politicians.

"But it does involved a groundswell of people, united in the one fact you are not happy with the plan.

"We've run into a mountain of bad decisions, bad management by politicians and people involved in water, which has seen a massive deterioration in water volume and reliability," Mr Brooks said.

"All those things are to do with the formation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan - I don't need to spell out the devastation it has caused."

Diverters backing

Murray Valley Private Diverters chairman John Lolicato said a series of meetings, across the southern Riverina, had continued to call for a pause to the Murray Darling Basin Plan roll out.

SRI and Murray Valley Private Diverters, depend on water from the Murray River for irrigation,

He endorsed calls, by Mr Brooks, that irrigators and community members needed to go to Canberra, to get their message across.

"Over a long period, we have paid a lot of money to our different advocacy groups," Mr Lolicato told the Barooga meeting.

"We have been extremely concerned they have lost touch with the grassroots."

Pausing the plan would give what he said were water fatigued communities some breathing space.

"It will allow the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder the time to use this period, to prove what can be gained from what's already in their bucket."

Mr Lolicato said many irrigators and community members, across southern NSW, wanted to "pull the plan up.

"I think everyone agrees, we do need a long term plan for the Murray River," he said.

But six years of implementation had meant damage to communities and wealth leaving the area.

"Once I sell my water, my productivity drops - as soon as that drops, all the townspeople, and people that supply me, are affected too."

He reiterated a call for no further buybacks, for five years, and a comprehensive review of the plan and river management, by independent consultants.

"There have already been 35 different reviews and papers, and the outcome depends on who does them," he said.

There would not be too many people who had attended the regional meetings who would trust the plan or the bureaucrats who were "running the show.

"We have very good grounds to say we are the ones who put the call out for the consultants, to put that review together.

'We don't want the MDBA to do it, that's marking their own homework."

The current plan had not been adapted to reflect current realities.

"We're at a crossroads, either we continue to see the plan go the way it's going, for another four years, which means there's going to be roughly somewhere between 600 and a million megalitres that will come out of production, or we, as communities, say enough is enough, we've given it a fair run."

Federal Water Minister David Littleproud has been contacted for comment.

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