They don’t care

June 21, 2017

Food producer Louise Burge was reduced to tears addressing the media in Canberra last week, supported by Senator David Leyonhjelm, Murray Irrigation chief executive officer Michael Renehan and West Berriquin Irrigators chair Shelley Scoullar.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle has condemned Federal Shadow Minister for Environment and Water Tony Burke for dismissing the emotion and frustration being felt as a result of the flawed Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Burke was a guest speaker at a National Irrigators’ Council meeting the day after Deniliquin food producer Louise Burge broke down in tears on the steps of Parliament House during a Murray Group press conference.

Mr Pyle was also at that NIC meeting on Thursday and said he said he got the impression Mr Burke considered the press conference as just ‘‘a bit of noise’’.

Mr Burke was federal water minister at the time the Basin Plan’s draft was released, but Mr Pyle said he seemed unwilling to recognise change was required.

‘‘Louise was in tears in Parliament House a day earlier, but it seemed he could not care less,’’ Mr Pyle said.

‘‘He says if one piece of the plan is unpicked, the plan will fail.

‘‘If the plan fails, he says the Federal Government will take over and buy the water straight away.

‘‘It is Tony Burke’s plan and it is perfect in his eyes — he just went on and on about himself and ‘his’ plan. And I think he feels his plan is threatened.’’

Mrs Burge and other members of the Murray Group held the Canberra press conference to launch the results of stage one of a socio-economic study into the impacts of the plan on the NSW Murray Valley.

The report linked the Federal Government’s water reform policy to a drop in rice production of 30 per cent and dairy production decrease of 21 per cent in this region due to the transfer of irrigation water out of entitlements to the environment.

Mrs Burge said her emotional response was the culmination of several years of basin communities being ignored by the decision makers.

‘‘I did get upset, because of the complete failure of the government to treat people decently and for politicians to understand the true cost of this plan,’’ Mrs Burge said.

‘‘No matter which way we step the matter is being poorly handled, and no-one is talking about how to improve the plan in a meaningful way.

‘‘We have appealed and expressed willingness to work with the relevant departments to get elements of the basin plan implementation right, and yet we’re blocked at every corner.

‘‘I attended my first meeting on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in December 2009. It has been years of warnings that the implications would be proportionally higher in the Murray Valley irrigation district — not only in decisions on removal of water and all the future risk around that but also in future higher irrigation costs, external business impacts and massive risks with government decisions to change current operations of the Murray river systems and how this would also have a range of consequences including increased flooding risks.

‘‘After 20 years in areas of government policy, knowing how they work and being able to predict outcomes, it is harder for me.

‘‘I have seen it over a wide range of issues where people are just pawns in political games and now this Basin Plan where people become collateral damage — it is hard to take.’’

Murray Group — comprising Southern Riverina Irrigators, Murray Valley Private Diverters, Murray Irrigation Limited and West Corurgan Private Irrigation District — commissioned the independent report on the impacts of the Basin Plan last year.

The Basin Plan recommends diverting a minimum of 2750 gigalitres of food producing water to the environment.

Mr Pyle said Thursday’s NIC meeting also touched on the controversial plans for another 450GL of ‘upwater’ to be added to the recovery amount.

‘‘Burke assured us that he had a motion ready to link the 450 gigalitres to the 650 gigalitres of ‘downwater’, and would put it to the Parliament if he felt it was needed.

‘‘It would mean any reduction in the 450 gigalitres will increase the requirements on the 650 gigalitres. And Burke demands that it is held water.

‘‘The accountability of the Murray Darling Basin Authority was raised and Mr Burke accepted that some assumptions may have been slightly incorrect, but had no answer on what to do about it.’’

■Socio-economic study’s stark findings, page 11.

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