Ap­proach was not sup­ported

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS - By James Ben­nett

Gabrielle Cou­p­land says South­ern Rive­rina Ir­ri­ga­tors mem­bers made it clear the ad­vo­cacy body was ‘‘pre­pared to lose cred­i­bil­ity’’ af­ter she was told she would not have the sup­port of key stake­hold­ers if she was to re­main as chair.

Mrs Cou­p­land did not stand at last week’s an­nual gen­eral meeting, mak­ing way for Ba­rooga farmer Chris Brooks to step into the role.

Mrs Cou­p­land said at the meeting she re­alised if she re­mained as chair her sup­port from fel­low stake­hold­ers would have di­min­ished.

‘‘It was made very clear there was a vo­cal and force­ful group of peo­ple who didn’t be­lieve my ap­proach was ap­pro­pri­ate, so I chose not to stand,’’ she said.

‘‘There’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to be far more pro­duc­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive.

‘‘I didn’t stand be­cause a few peo­ple be­haved in a way that (sug­gested) if I won (the elec­tion) they wouldn’t have been co­op­er­a­tive around the SRI table.

‘‘If I had won the elec­tion and the num­bers sug­gest this would have been the case, I would have lost cred­i­bil­ity over time with ex­ter­nal wa­ter stake­hold­ers and I didn’t want to be a part of bring­ing down what I and the SRI team have worked so hard to re­build.’’

Mrs Cou­p­land said be­fore be­com­ing chair last year the rep­u­ta­tion of SRI was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and she had worked hard to re­build the ‘‘strong voice it once had’’ in the past 12 months.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, there is a group of peo­ple who think a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach and well in­formed de­bate will not help ir­ri­ga­tors in this re­gion achieve what we need to achieve,’’ she said.

‘‘Peo­ple who are not pre­pared to work hon­estly, con­struc­tively and fac­tu­ally will not be part of the wa­ter con­ver­sa­tion in the broader con­text.

‘‘There has been un­savoury be­hav­iour at sev­eral meet­ings and I am ex­plor­ing other av­enues to rep­re­sent ir­ri­ga­tors and agri­cul­ture with­out sub­ject­ing my­self and other will­ing par­tic­i­pants to that type of be­hav­iour.’’

Mr Brooks was elected af­ter Mrs Cou­p­land un­suc­cess­fully tried to have the meeting post­poned.

His key pri­or­ity was to build a united voice to fight for the re­gion.

‘‘I want full unity of all wa­ter or­gan­i­sa­tions in the area so we can con­cen­trate all our en­er­gies and ef­forts with a sin­gle voice against the ex­ter­nal forces that have been in­flict­ing un­fair and un­rea­son­able neg­a­tive wa­ter poli­cies on our val­ley,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘We need or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing SRI, Mur­ray Ir­ri­ga­tion and Rice­grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion uni­son.

‘‘It is im­per­a­tive that we have these groups, as well as all other sec­tors and com­mit­tees in our com­mu­nity on the same page and all fight­ing for the one cause.

‘‘Pos­i­tive steps to achieve this have been taken in re­cent times and I am de­ter­mined that they will con­tinue and be suc­cess­ful, with SRI an in­te­gral part of the process,’’ he said.

Mr Brooks was look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge and thanked land­hold­ers for their sup­port.

‘‘I am con­fi­dent we can make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the re­gion around wa­ter pol­icy, but to achieve this we must im­me­di­ately en­sure there is full co­op­er­a­tion and unity be­tween the land­holder as­so­ci­a­tions, so we can es­tab­lish a clear work­ing in strat­egy go­ing for­ward that in­cludes input from all mem­bers in the Mur­ray Ir­ri­ga­tion district,’’ he said.

‘‘At the same time we must all be open and trans­par­ent about poli­cies and is­sues.

‘‘First on my agenda will be pri­ori­tis­ing the ‘must do’ mat­ters and ap­ply­ing suf­fi­cient re­sources and lo­cal skills to en­sure we achieve sat­is­fac­tory out­comes.’’

Mr Brooks is a fourth gen­er­a­tion ir­ri­ga­tion farmer from Ba­rooga, who re­turned home to the farm in 2012 and ad­mit­ted to be­ing stag­gered by the one un­re­li­able input — be­ing wa­ter — that was con­stantly re­strict­ing the abil­ity to gen­er­ate a profit.

‘‘I am ap­palled at the con­stant and grow­ing list of disasters in wa­ter pol­icy which have been so counter-pro­duc­tive to the en­tire re­gion,’’ he said.

‘‘The in­cum­bent gov­ern­ments have done us no favours and we must make them aware of this fact.

‘‘I don’t mind which govern­ment I shake up; I am here to try and get some wa­ter back, or at least stop giv­ing it away.’’

Mrs Cou­p­land is not leav­ing the wa­ter con­ver­sa­tion just yet.

‘‘Agri­cul­ture and ir­ri­ga­tion in this re­gion has huge po­ten­tial — the fo­cus by mi­nori­ties on lo­calised grand­stand­ing and emo­tive de­bate only serves as a dis­trac­tion for what this re­gion is re­ally about and what we do — mak­ing ev­ery drop count,’’ she said.

‘‘We want busi­nesses built on ef­fi­ciency, time­li­ness and flex­i­bil­ity. This is what we do and who we are.

‘‘I’ll al­ways help out the younger gen­er­a­tion who are just start­ing to en­ter the wa­ter pol­i­tics dis­cus­sion; I will help them as much as I can and point them in the right di­rec­tion.

‘‘I think it’s fan­tas­tic we have new faces who want to join in the wa­ter con­ver­sa­tion. We need some youth­ful vi­tal­ity and a new ap­proach.’’

❝It was made very clear there was a vo­cal and force­ful group of peo­ple who didn’t be­lieve my ap­proach was ap­pro­pri­ate, so I chose not to stand.❞

Gabrielle Cou­p­land

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