Ex-chair hits out
Replaced leader says SRI is ‘prepared to lose credibility’
Gabrielle Coupland says Southern Riverina Irrigators members have made it clear the advocacy body is ‘‘prepared to lose credibility’’ after she was told she wouldn’t have the support of key stakeholders if she was to remain as chairperson.
Mrs Coupland did not stand at last week’s annual general meeting, making way for Barooga farmer Chris Brooks to step into the role.
Mrs Coupland said at the AGM she realised if she remained as chair her support from fellow stakeholders would have diminished.
‘‘It was made very clear there was a vocal and forceful group of people who didn’t believe my approach was appropriate, so I chose not to stand,’’ she said.
‘‘There’s an opportunity for us to be far more productive and collaborative. I didn’t stand because a few people behaved in a way that (suggested) if I won (the election) they wouldn’t have been cooperative around the SRI table.
‘‘If I had won the election, and the numbers suggest this would have been the case, I would have lost credibility over time with external water stakeholders and I didn’t want to be a part of bringing down what I and the SRI team have worked so hard to rebuild.’’
Mrs Coupland added prior to becoming chairperson last year the reputation of SRI was deteriorating and over the past 12 months she had worked hard to rebuild the ‘‘strong voice it once had’’.
‘‘Unfortunately, there is a group of people who think a collaborative approach and well informed debate will not help irrigators in this region achieve what we need to achieve.
‘‘People who are not prepared to work honestly, constructively and factually will not be part of the water conversation in the broader context.
‘‘There has been unsavoury behaviour at several meetings and I am exploring other avenues to represent irrigators and agriculture without subjecting myself and other willing participants to that type of behaviour.’’
Mr Brooks said his key priority was to build a united voice to fight for the region.
‘‘I want full unity of all water organisations in the area so we can concentrate all our energies and efforts with a single voice against the external forces that have been inflicting unfair and unreasonable negative water policies on our valley,’’ Mr Brooks said.
‘‘We need organisations including SRI, Murray Irrigation and Ricegrowers Association working in unison.
‘‘It is imperative that we have these groups, as well as all other sectors and committees in our community on the same page and all fighting for the one cause.
‘‘Positive steps to achieve this have been taken in recent times and I am determined that they will continue and be successful, with SRI an integral part of the process,’’ Mr Brooks said.
Despite not having a role with SRI, Mrs Coupland said she wasn’t leaving the water conversation yet.
‘‘Agriculture and irrigation in this region has huge potential — the focus by minorities on localised grandstanding and emotive debate only serves as a distraction for what this region is really about and what we do — making every drop count.
‘‘We are businesses built on efficiency, timeliness and flexibility. This is what we do and who we are.
‘‘I’ll always help out the younger generation who are just starting to enter the water politics discussion; I will help them as much as I can and point them in the right direction.
‘‘I think it’s fantastic we have new faces who want to join in the water conversation. We need some youthful vitality and a new approach,’’ Mrs Coupland said.