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Berrigan mayor calls for basin plan adjustment package
Berrigan Shire Mayor John Bruce says the government should offer a structural adjustment package if it goes through with the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Cr Bruce believes the package should include an ongoing grants program, and infrastructure efficiency funding to cement the future of local agriculture.
He said the package should not replicate the structural adjustment offered when local state forests were converted to National Parks in 2010.
‘‘We’ve got to have investment that creates jobs and industry that is ongoing,’’ Cr Bruce said.
He suggested money for delivery system and on-farm efficiencies, and funding to upgrade the Tocumwal rail system.
‘‘If we are going to see continued direct buy-backs of water into the future . . . we really need investment in infrastructure and other industry to replace what we will lose.
‘‘The only industry we have really got is water.’’
Locals fear there will be severe social and economic repercussions if the proposed Murray Darling Basin Plan diverts 2750 gigalitres of water from productive use to the environment.
Cr Bruce disputed government claims that country towns need to diversify their industries.
‘‘We are being told to try and look at other industry, but if we knew what that industry was, would it not have been here by now?’’ he said.
Cr Bruce also said country job losses don’t seem to matter as much to the government as city job losses.
He pointed to the Federal Government and Victorian Government $40 million Alcoa aluminium smelter bail out as an example.
The money means about 900 jobs have been directly or indirectly saved until 2014.
‘‘The government straight away came out and said, ‘We need to do something about this’,’’ Cr Bruce said.
A study by Hyder Consulting in association with Access Economics pointed to 337 — and possibly hundreds more — job losses in the Central Murray Cluster Group of Councils if the basin plan goes through.
The cluster is made up of Berrigan, Jerilderie, Conargo, Deniliquin, Murray and Wakool.
Cr Bruce said country jobs should be more valuable than city jobs, as country areas have smaller populations.
‘‘When we see the Commonwealth propose to implement its Murray-Darling Basin Plan and directly inflict similar levels of job losses on rural areas, we don’t hear a thing, much less see any actual action,’’ he said.
‘‘The Commonwealth and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority continue to take the view that they are right and everyone else is wrong and there will only be minimal impacts.’’
Finley Chamber of Commerce President Rand Wilson believes Finley will be one of the towns hardest hit by the basin plan.
‘‘The two towns I believe will be affected most from the basin plan are Finley and Coleambally - towns which grew because of government-sponsored irrigation schemes,’’ he said.