Ball now in PM’s court

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS -

A del­e­ga­tion which met Prime Min­is­ter Scott Morrison last week is hoping he will in­ter­vene in the lo­cal wa­ter cri­sis.

The meet­ing with the PM was or­gan­ised fol­low­ing a let­ter which last month de­scribed as a ‘des­per­ate plea’ and signed by 15 com­mu­nity, farm­ing, indigenous and lo­cal govern­ment groups.

It was co­or­di­nated by the Speak Up Cam­paign, which has since worked with Mem­ber for Far­rer Sussan Ley to have the meet­ing or­gan­ised.

The del­e­ga­tion was led by Speak Up chair Shel­ley Scoullar and also in­cluded deputy chair Lach­lan Mar­shall, as well as the chair of Mur­ray Re­gional Strat­egy Group Alan Mathers.

They met with Prime Min­is­ter Morrison, Ms Ley, Wa­ter Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud and govern­ment ad­vis­ers.

Mrs Scoullar said Mr Morrison was greatly con­cerned about the cri­sis be­ing faced in our re­gion.

‘‘He lis­tened in­tently and showed gen­uine in­ter­est in find­ing out more about some of the in­for­ma­tion we pro­vided. There is no doubt he was not aware of the sever­ity of the im­pact be­ing felt in our re­gion due to flaws in the Basin Plan.’’

Mr Mathers said the del­e­ga­tion pre­sented four key mes­sages to Mr Morrison, af­ter high­light­ing that the cur­rent wa­ter cri­sis in south­ern New South Wales and north­ern Vic­to­ria is not caused by the drought. He said these mes­sages were: 1. The Fed­eral Govern­ment needs to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency to en­sure wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions are made avail­able in the South­ern Basin to un­der­pin the 2019-20 food pro­duc­ing sea­son.

2. The Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan is not work­ing due to pol­icy fail­ure and bu­reau­cratic mis­man­age­ment. The Basin Plan needs to be paused, re­viewed and re-set.

3. At present the largest and most ef­fi­cient grav­ity feed ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in the world is sit­ting idle, while wa­ter has been poured down the Mur­ray River at mi­nor flood level, wast­ing an es­ti­mated ad­di­tional 300,000 me­gal­itres, to meet de­mand in South Aus­tralia.

4. Com­mu­ni­ties are so dam­aged through job losses, eco­nomic de­cline and fail­ure of bu­reau­cracy to ac­knowl­edge its er­rors and fix the problems, that the peo­ple took out their frus­tra­tion at the bal­lot box in the NSW State elec­tion.

‘‘Mr Morrison recog­nised the com­plex­i­ties around wa­ter shar­ing and ac­knowl­edged the Basin Plan would need much fur­ther investigation on his behalf. He seemed open to purs­ing this,’’ Mr Mathers said.

‘‘How­ever, with the elec­tion seem­ingly only weeks away par­lia­ment will not be sit­ting un­til af­ter May, which makes de­ci­sion mak­ing difficult un­til we have a new govern­ment.’’

Mr Mar­shall said the Prime Min­is­ter was con­cerned at the vol­ume of lost pro­duc­tion not only to this re­gion, but to the na­tional econ­omy, due to lack of wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion.

‘‘He lis­tened care­fully and I am con­fi­dent he now un­der­stands that wa­ter pol­icy and man­age­ment in this part of the basin is be­com­ing a na­tional dis­as­ter. He re­alises some­thing needs to be done.’’

The Prime Min­is­ter was also handed a heart­felt let­ter from Mr Mar­shall’s 11 yearold daugh­ter Ella, writ­ten at her own ini­tia­tive when she re­alised her father was go­ing to visit the Prime Min­is­ter.

‘‘It was an hon­est, raw ac­count from a young girl about how the lack of wa­ter is af­fect­ing her­self, her family and her friends,” Mr Mar­shall said.

Af­ter meet­ing with the Prime Min­is­ter, the lo­cal del­e­ga­tion had fur­ther dis­cus­sions with Ms Ley and an adviser from the Wa­ter Min­is­ter’s of­fice about tak­ing im­me­di­ate ac­tion that will see wa­ter made avail­able to the re­gion’s food producers.

Mrs Scoullar said they were very ap­pre­cia­tive of the opportunity to high­light these is­sues to Mr Morrison, es­pe­cially be­ing such a busy time on the morn­ing af­ter the Bud­get was handed down.

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