We can be part of the solution
NSW Murray Valley farmers want a starting general security irrigation allocation by the end of the week and have called on newly installed Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit the area as soon as possible.
They were two of the motions put to Monday’s water crisis rally in Deniliquin, organised by Speak Up Campaign and supported unanimously by the more than 550 strong crowd.
Local government, community and farming representatives from throughout the region attended the rally, and Berrigan Shire Council joined other regional organisations in signing an ‘Open Letter’ highlighting the region’s plight and how it can become part of the drought solution, instead of being part of the problem.
The crowd filled the Deniliquin RSL Club’s Dunlop Room in such great numbers many were forced to stand for the entirety of the two-hour meeting.
Some brandished signs reading ‘ No water! No Food! No community!’ and ‘No water, no future’, and many donned the Speak Up t-shirt which reads ‘It’s all about our communities’.
They were there to send a clear message to water authorities and politicians — we need water to grow food and fodder and we need it now.
Rally participants unanimously supported calls for the Prime Minister to immediately place a visit to the Deniliquin district at the top of his priority list to discuss options with farmers and endorsed the open letter to all Australians calling on them to ‘‘urge politicians along with regulatory bodies to investigate every avenue to assist with drought relief’’.
Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said Monday’s meeting was called to address, specifically, the fact the NSW Murray Valley remains on zero per cent allocation despite plenty of water being in the two major storage dams.
Not only is the zero allocation jeopardising local winter crops and fodder production, it impacts on regional economies and those communities facing more severe drought conditions and who are in desperate need of fodder to keep livestock alive.
‘‘You are here today because you understand the value of water to our communities,’’ Mrs Scoullar told the rally.
‘‘You understand that for our communities to survive and thrive water needs to flow onto our fertile soils so that our farmers can do what they excel at, producing food and fibre.
‘‘You are here today because you believe in common sense and that it will prevail, because you will not give up our communities; communities who rely on the region’s farmers to be productive so that you can employ an apprentice, take care of our finances, write us a new loan, educate our children, the list goes on.
‘‘Speak Up has been inundated with people stressed about the current situation and worried about the future. No more so than those concerned about the future for the next generation without access to reliable and affordable water.
‘‘Some will say that we only have ourselves to blame for selling entitlements or participating in efficiency programs. That argument does not cut it for Speak Up. Coming out of the Millennium drought some had no other option so that they could hang onto their family farm, their dream and their way of life.
‘‘The true cost of the Basin Plan is now playing out, and those who want a future in irrigated agriculture are paying the ultimate price. The current situation is looking to be the new norm.’’
Mrs Scoullar said irrigators in the NSW Murray are ‘‘totally out played by environmental groups and South Australia who have very strategically ensured that the wider voting public view us as water thieves’’.
‘‘Compared (to them) we are out resourced and have not played the political game well,’’ she said.
‘‘I have seen first hand that the Murray Valley has become the sacrificial lamb in water reform.
‘‘This has taken place over a period of time, whether it be through Water Sharing Plans, lack of transparency from NSW Departments and lack of understanding from our peak representative irrigation organisations of the risks to Murray resources, to name a few.’’
Speaking to the motion demanding an early water allocation, Murray Irrigation CEO Michael Renehan said even the smallest allocation would trigger efficiency water the company could deliver to irrigators in conjunction with a borrow from environmental water reserves.
‘‘Murray Irrigation would get its full 50 per cent conveyance licence with an opening allocation, and we could then start to deliver carryover and purchased water,’’ Mr Renehan said.
‘‘We also have efficiency water that we can get to farms straight away, even if we only got one per cent (allocation).
‘‘The more the better but our aim is to get one per cent, which could put 140 gigalitres into our system.’’
There in support of the rally’s aims, and asked to champion the motions on behalf of those in the room, were Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and NSW Member for Murray Austin Evans.
Ms Ley, who indicated she had spoken with the new PM before the meeting, said the concept of a ‘borrow’ is the option she has been championing in Parliament and the public sphere.
Mr Evans said the greatest hope of getting an allocation now is to suspend the water sharing plans and make the 141GL of water being held for the state split to be made available to farmers.
He said in the longer term the make-up of the split of that water to Victoria, NSW and South Australia needs to be addressed.
Ms Ley, Mr Evans and Mrs Scoullar made up a panel of nine to address the rally, with others including grower Chris Brooks, Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland, Edward River Council Mayor Norm Brennan, Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia president Jeremy Morton, Murray Irrigation Limited chair Phil Snowden and Murray Valley Private Diverters chair Andrew Hicks.
In a show of unity, all these organisations, plus Berrigan Shire Council, signed the Open Letter.