Rally de­liv­ers a clear mes­sage

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS -

The mes­sage was de­liv­ered loudly and clearly by 1000 pas­sion­ate farm­ers and com­mu­nity sup­port­ers, backed up by nearly 140 trucks, at a rally in Al­bury last Tues­day.

Pause the Basin Plan, be­cause it is not work­ing for com­mu­ni­ties or the en­vi­ron­ment, was the cry.

Frus­tra­tion had boiled over fol­low­ing a sum­mer in which wa­ter au­thor­i­ties tried to push huge quan­ti­ties from dams east of Al­bury down the Mur­ray River to South Aus­tralia, to the point where it was run­ning over the river’s banks and flooding forests.

At the same time, the re­gion’s farm­ers had a zero gen­eral se­cu­rity wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion for food and fi­bre pro­duc­tion, and as a consequence have suf­fered im­mense eco­nomic pain that has flowed on to the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Their peace­ful rally was held in QEII square, be­fore ev­ery­one marched around the block with their plac­ards, be­hind a hay­laden semi-trailer which also car­ried the ‘Pause the Plan’ plea.

It was led by South­ern Rive­rina Ir­ri­ga­tors, whose chair­man Chris Brooks had a strong mes­sage for both Coali­tion and La­bor politi­cians — ‘‘you haven’t been lis­ten­ing, and we’re up for the fight’’.

The anger from Mr Brooks and many oth­ers in the crowd was di­rected firmly at fed­eral Mem­ber for Far­rer Sus­san Ley, who stood along­side the trailer on which speak­ers stood as she copped a bar­rage of crit­i­cism.

‘‘We want our wa­ter back and we want all par­ties to know we are go­ing to fight for it,’’ Mr Brooks told the crowd, to rous­ing ap­plause.

He was es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of La­bor wa­ter spokesman Tony Burke, who re­cently said in South Aus­tralia that a La­bor Gov­ern­ment would rein­tro­duce wa­ter buy­backs and scrap the neu­tral­ity test, which was in­tro­duced by state wa­ter min­is­ters in De­cem­ber to pro­tect ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘We will not be in­tim­i­dated by Tony Burke and the La­bor Party with their ridicu­lous threats to fur­ther un­der­mine our wa­ter rights,’’ Mr Brooks said.

Other speak­ers in­cluded Ba­rooga farmer Carly Mar­riott, South­ern Rive­rina Ir­ri­ga­tors deputy chair Darcy Hare and ‘ pause the plan’ in­sti­ga­tor John Loli­cato, who out­lined why a five year mora­to­rium and re­view of the Basin Plan is so des­per­ately needed.

He ex­plained the Pause the Plan move­ment was call­ing for all basin state gov­ern­ments and the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to im­me­di­ately im­ple­ment a frame­work that will en­sure no fur­ther wa­ter ac­qui­si­tion for a pe­riod of at least five years. It also wants a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the plan and river man­age­ment by in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tants ap­proved by the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.

Mr Hare high­lighted the waste of wa­ter with four mil­lion me­gal­itres be­ing sent to South Aus­tralia, be­ing ‘‘wa­ter they don’t pay for and they don’t own, to waste in trans­mis­sion losses, di­lu­tion flows and mas­sive evap­o­ra­tion from once es­tu­ar­ine lakes’’.

He also slammed the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity for its man­age­ment of wa­ter, which al­lowed those in South Aus­tralia to ‘‘yacht about on our wa­ter sip­ping their chardon­nay, while we go broke and lose our farms, our fam­i­lies and our chil­dren’s fu­ture’’.

The Voices for Far­rer in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in the fed­eral elec­tion, Kevin Mack, high­lighted the im­por­tance of wa­ter to keep­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties pros­per­ous and strong.

‘‘We are here to­day to look af­ter our fu­ture and make sure our young peo­ple are looked af­ter. The mes­sage from this gath­er­ing of farm­ers and small busi­ness own­ers is clear . . . re­gional Aus­tralia is be­ing ne­glected and the ma­jor par­ties in con­trol of our coun­try have lost sight of what is im­por­tant to coun­try com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘We are con­tin­u­ally ig­nored at the high­est level of gov­ern­ment by both par­ties.

‘‘The Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan is a dis­as­ter and the lat­est is­sues with wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions are in­dica­tive of this. Re­gional pol­icy is about pro­vid­ing for our re­gions and en­sur­ing we are all given the same con­sid­er­a­tions as our ur­ban elec­torates.

‘‘Wa­ter is crit­i­cal to this pol­icy and to ev­ery city, town and ham­let of Far­rer,’’ Mr Mack said, as he stuck with the theme of the rally and urged politi­cians to ‘ pause the plan’.

A pe­ti­tion or­gan­ised by the Speak Up Cam­paign which calls for a bal­anced Basin Plan that pro­tects food pro­duc­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment was read out by Speak Up chair Shel­ley Scoullar and handed to Ms Ley. It has gen­er­ated more than 85,000 sig­na­tures as it asks gov­ern­ments to put pol­i­tics aside and start gov­ern­ing for the whole Basin by treat­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, fam­ily farms and the en­vi­ron­ment with re­spect and on an equal foot­ing.

Ms Ley asked for an op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress the crowd but re­ceived a hos­tile re­cep­tion. She was con­tin­u­ally heck­led as she tried to ex­plain that ‘‘ev­ery sin­gle day of my po­lit­i­cal life I get up and fight for wa­ter’’.

Ms Ley re­jected claims the Prime Min­is­ter does not un­der­stand wa­ter is­sues and said he ‘‘un­der­stands the pain of these com­mu­ni­ties’’.

She said af­ter the rally she was tak­ing the Drought En­voy Ma­jor Gen­eral Stephen Day to Fin­ley.

‘‘I said to Ma­jor Gen­eral Day I want you to come and see the dif­fi­cul­ties, the chal­lenges and the aw­ful sit­u­a­tion that my com­mu­ni­ties are in.’’

She con­tin­ued: ‘‘I want to tell you I un­der­stand your frus­tra­tion’’.

In clos­ing the rally Mr Brooks urged ev­ery­one in at­ten­dance ‘‘don’t lose faith, don’t stop sup­port­ing, don’t stop more peo­ple get­ting on board and get­ting in­volved. We need to in­form these politi­cians that we will not tol­er­ate any more. Most es­pe­cially to Tony Burke . . . we will not be in­tim­i­dated,’’ he re­peated.

Mr Brooks said af­ter the rally it was dis­ap­point­ing that the fed­eral Wa­ter Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud was just across the river at Wodonga while the rally was be­ing held.

‘‘I know he prob­a­bly wanted to avoid us, but if he’d ven­tured across the Mur­ray he may have gained fur­ther ev­i­dence of our anger which led to his party los­ing the seat of Mur­ray in last month’s state elec­tion, and why we want to re­place his Lib­eral col­league Sus­san Ley, who I think will lose Far­rer at the up­com­ing fed­eral elec­tion.

‘‘The Coali­tion is not lis­ten­ing, so we have no choice but to con­tinue vent­ing our anger through the bal­lot box. We’ve done it once in re­cent weeks and we’ll do it again next month.’’

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