Deputy will fight
It is time for NSW to ‘‘fight for our fair share’’ in water policy, according to NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
After meeting with district irrigators and landholders, business and community leaders in Deniliquin last week, the leader of The Nationals said he is now more prepared to challenge the information fed to Parliament by bureaucrats and advisors.
Mr Barilaro said he left the region with a greater understanding of the impact the drought and flawed water policy is having on small business, and the frustrations about water availability to grow food and fibre.
While admitting he is no water expert, he said he wanted to take away as much information as possible to lobby government.
‘‘Most ministers in cabinet rely on advice of public service bureaucrats, and we also rely on the minister responsible for some of these categories,’’ Mr Barilaro said.
‘‘But you’re the experts, you’ve lived it. You live in this region with many of you being second, third and fourth generation farmers and irrigators.
‘‘You know what it looks like and I’m here to listen and hear what you have to say, then I can challenge the information that I receive (from bureaucrats and ministers).’’
Mr Barilaro said he is hopeful a change of government in South Australia earlier this year could prove to be a step forward in making more water available to NSW.
‘‘Now is probably the best time to have a proper conversation (with South Australia) and I’m prepared to do that,’’ he said.
‘‘What you’re all asking for you’re entitled to, and that’s the part that I don’t understand. Why have we gotten to this point? It angers me.
‘‘What I’m promising you is to listen, take it away and then come back and face you again in the very near future and say ‘this is what I’ve been able to achieve, or what I think we can achieve’.’’
Mr Barilaro spent two days in the Deniliquin district last week, flanked by local Member for Murray Austin Evans.
They pair met with the Regional Stakeholder Group and the Nationals Red Gum Branch on Wednesday evening.
Also the Minister for Small Business, Mr Barilaro was the guest of honour at a business breakfast in Deniliquin on Thursday morning, before he and Mr Evans hosted a public water meeting.
Having attended the Regional Stake- holder Group meeting on Wednesday, Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan and Murrumbidgee Council Mayor Ruth McRae both said they have greater confidence in Mr Barilaro to affect change.
Cr Hannan said while the Deputy Premier ‘‘didn’t have all the answers’’ he did seem more willing than some other politicians to get to the bottom of the issues.
‘‘You have to take things on face value and when the solutions are put up that's when he can go to the government,’’ he said.
‘‘There were many people at the meeting who have been dealing with this issue for a long time and there's been lots of meetings.
‘‘I won't speak for others, but from my point of view it (Barilaro’s response to the issues) seemed pretty genuine.
‘‘We need representation from our politicians and hopefully he’ll be able to assist us.’’
Cr McRae said it’s now up to the local representative bodies to come up with some tangible solutions for Mr Barilaro and his government to enact.
‘‘The really positive thing about the forum is that it brought together interested water bodies, and they’re trying to get the collective voice at the table.
‘‘What has probably hindered getting any real progress on water issues there are so many bodies that come to the table, so it was a real benefit of this group it's getting all relevant parties and discussing what needs to be done.
‘‘For the time I was in the room the deputy prime minister gave us a very fair hearing.
‘‘I think if we can define and articulate the keys issues and work with the government, then we can get that credible voice to interact with the people who make the decision we will get some good outcomes.
‘‘It's not going to happen overnight; it's a working progress and we have to be patient. We need to have the mindset we want a resolution to these issues, so when you think of that mindset you have to be confident and futuristic.’’