No trust in plan

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alana Chris­tensen

The Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan con­tin­ues to be plagued by a lack of trust, with farm­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and even Fed­eral Water Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud voic­ing con­cerns.

Sto­ries of dis­trust of the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Water Re­sources, con­cerns about the so­cioe­co­nomic im­pacts of re­cov­er­ing 450 Gl of ‘up-water’ and a gen­eral angst around the basin plan were all shared with Mr Lit­tleproud at a pub­lic fo­rum in Shep­par­ton last Wed­nes­day.

Fed­eral Mem­ber for Mur­ray Damian Drum said it was a long run­ning is­sue.

‘‘This is a bit of a trend. David, the mes­sage can­not be clearer from this room that your depart­ment, the peo­ple in your depart­ment deal­ing with water are not friends of this area. We can’t trust them,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a worry for us.’’ The long-run­ning mis­trust has only been fu­elled by recent con­sul­ta­tions with the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Water Re­sources, ac­cord­ing to Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey.

The depart­ment has re­cently been in re­gional towns, in­clud­ing Shep­par­ton and De­niliquin, to dis­cuss the so­cial and eco­nomic im­pact test which will gov­ern water re­cov­ery in the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin.

Com­mu­ni­ties were given just one day’s no­tice of the con­sul­ta­tions, with lo­cals un­happy with the lack of no­tice, in­for­ma­tion and de­tail.

‘‘My ques­tion is: when are you go­ing to pull your depart­ment into line?’’ Mr Hoey said.

‘‘The depart­ment has been go­ing through the re­gions putting to­gether ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est and try­ing to jus­tify why these re­gions should be putting up these pro­grams,’’ he said.

‘‘So why don’t we let MINCO (Min­is­te­rial Coun­cil) do its job, let the states come to an agree­ment? The depart­ment (has been) try­ing to run roughshod over this basin plan for way too long.’’

Mr Lit­tleproud had pre­vi­ously slammed his depart­ment and told the staff to re­turn to ar­eas where peo­ple felt they had not been heard.

He ex­tended the con­sul­ta­tion by two weeks say­ing they had given ‘‘three parts of bug­ger all’’ no­tice.

‘‘I told them ‘you’ll do it again un­til you do it right’,’’ Mr Lit­tleproud said.

‘‘They need to give you the re­spect you de­serve . . . I’m not overly chuffed about (what’s hap­pened).’’

Al­though ex­press­ing some sur­prise there were not more ques­tions about the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan, VFF Water Coun­cil chair Richard An­der­son said he ‘‘didn’t take much new out of (the meet­ing) at all’’.

‘‘It was a bit of same old same old and re­ally quite sub­dued on the water front,’’ Mr An­der­son said.

Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture and Water Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud has moved to calm con­cerns over the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan, call­ing on all par­ties to ‘‘take a leap of faith’’.

Host­ing a pub­lic fo­rum along­side Fed­eral Mem­ber for Mur­ray Damian Drum in Shep­par­ton last Wed­nes­day, Mr Lit­tleproud told the 150-strong crowd there was more work to be done on the plan.

The con­tro­ver­sial 450 Gl of ‘up­wa­ter’ was the ‘‘ele­phant in the room’’ ac­cord­ing to many at­ten­dees who voiced con­cerns about the ef­fect water re­cov­ery will have on the re­gion.

‘‘The eas­i­est thing for me is to sit here, look you in the eye and say ‘yeah, I’m go­ing to stick it into them (the other states) as well’ but there’s no point. I can’t change (the plan). I’ve just got to get on and try and limit the im­pact,’’ Mr Lit­tleproud told the crowd.

All basin states and the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment are cur­rently work­ing on a neu­tral­ity test as part of the 450 Gl, to de­ter­mine how the so­cio-eco­nomic ef­fects of po­ten­tial projects should be as­sessed, which will be dis­cussed at a Min­is­te­rial Coun­cil meet­ing on De­cem­ber 14.

Vic­to­ria and NSW have al­ready out­lined their sug­ges­tions for the test, in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial im­pacts on re­gions and ex­plain­ing any ben­e­fits, en­sur­ing it does not di­rectly in­crease the price of water, does not im­pact ir­ri­ga­tion jobs, and con­trib­utes to the cur­rent and fu­ture fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of ir­ri­ga­tion dis­tricts.

Mr Lit­tleproud said he in­tended to re­spect the re­quire­ments of the leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing the clause that states the 450 Gl can­not be de­liv­ered un­less it has neu­tral or pos­i­tive so­cioe­co­nomic ef­fects.

‘‘The neu­tral­ity test is im­por­tant, it has to be re­spected . . . We in­tend to re­spect those guide­lines,’’ he said.

‘‘(The plan) is not per­fect, there’s no way it’s per­fect . . . But I’ve got to make sure I don’t cause any more im­pact.

‘‘(If we can’t make the plan work) they’ll come back with a five or six thou­sand (Gl) plan . . . this is the in­san­ity that’s there.’’

Mr Drum said the plan re­placed ‘‘ab­so­lute chaos’’. He agreed that al­though ‘‘not per­fect’’ the plan must be worked with.

Goul­burn Mur­ray Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­trict Water Lead­er­ship Group co-chair and State Mem­ber for Shep­par­ton Suzanna Sheed said there must be a broad and thor­ough test ap­plied to any water to be re­trieved for the 450 Gl.

‘‘The best thing you could do for us . . . is guar­an­tee that if there is any neg­a­tive im­pacts across our towns . . . that no water to­wards the 450 will be taken from us,’’ Ms Sheed said to ap­plause from the crowd.

Mr Lit­tleproud said there must be faith.

‘‘The prob­lem with the plan is there hasn’t been trust. We have to take a leap of faith,’’ he said.

Tal­ly­ga­roopna dairy farmer Natalie Ak­ers said al­though it was good to see Mr Lit­tleproud make the ef­fort to come to the re­gion, there was still a great deal of un­cer­tainty around the basin plan.

‘‘I think the re­gion still has a lot more work to do in con­vinc­ing the Com­mon­wealth of the ac­tual tip­ping point the GMID is fac­ing,’’ Ms Ak­ers said.

Water woes . . . More than 150 peo­ple at­tended a pub­lic fo­rum to ask ques­tions of Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture and Water Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud (in­set right). Among them was Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey (in­set left).

Keen in­ter­est . . . More than 150 peo­ple turned up for a pub­lic fo­rum in Shep­par­ton to ask ques­tions of Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture and Water Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud.

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