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Empty support

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December 27, 2017

Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has said there would be ‘‘no action’’ to come from Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud’s shock announcement he would support the recovery of more productive water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Just days after being appointed to replace Barnaby Joyce in the portfolio, Mr Littleproud told Fairfax Media he is committed to supporting the Murray-Darling Bain Plan’s recommendations in full.

It included the amendment supporting the recovery of the extra 450 gigalitres to support environmental assets, even though legislation states this will not be recovered if there are adverse social and economic impacts on rural communities.

The shock comments by Mr Littleproud last week sent ripples through the Murray Valley irrigation district, where stakeholder groups and their communities are still fighting to highlight the consequences of recovering the original 2750GL of productive water.

Ms Ley said while she cannot say why Mr Littleproud made the comments, she said it would have no bearing on policy which prevents the additional water being recovered without surety of no further impacts.

She also said she would fight any push to have the additional 450GL put into play.

‘‘Upsetting though the minister’s comments would have been, there has not been a change in policy,’’ Ms Ley said.

‘‘There are rules surrounding the introduction of this additional 450 gigalitres of water and it can only be delivered if there are no social or economic impacts.

‘‘I don’t believe it can be delivered without impacts, so it cannot be enacted — that is something all my colleagues need to understand.

‘‘I will not support any move that causes further pain.’’

The extended target would increase the total amount of water returned from irrigated agriculture to the river system under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to 3200GL.

Speak Up spokesperson and Deniliquin food producer Shelley Scoullar said Mr Littleproud’s stance was in stark contrast to the views of NSW and Victorian water ministers — Niall Blair and Lisa Neville respectively — who at last week’s Ministerial Council (MINCO) meeting shot down an attempt from South Australia to bring the extra water into play.

‘‘If Mr Littleproud is so confident the 450 gigalitres can be delivered without any adverse social and economic impacts, he should support a stance that it all comes from the Northern Basin, as this will also solve problems with the Lower Darling.

‘‘It is disappointing that Mr Littleproud has shown little regard for NSW and Victorian Water Ministers Niall Blair and Lisa Neville who, despite being on opposite sides of politics, last week stood their ground against the political point-scoring from South Australia.

‘‘It would appear that political games have been played to placate city-based environmental groups who influence marginal city seats.

‘‘The disappointing reality is that the new Minister is prepared to sacrifice rural communities to help save city politicians.

‘‘That is an alarming and extraordinary approach from a Nationals member of parliament, which has the potential to reverberate for the party throughout its heartland.

‘‘It is imperative that Mr Littleproud visits the Deniliquin region as a matter of urgency to see for himself the environmental damage being caused by forcing current volumes of water down the system, let alone the social and economic effects.

‘‘We also continue to support the common-sense stance taken by Ministers Blair and Neville and encourage them to stand their ground against these political stunts.’’

Mrs Scoullar said she was pleased to see support from Ms Ley and encouraged her to ensure he visits the region as a matter of urgency so he can meet with her constituents and gain an appreciation of the impacts of his bizarre comments, which he was not in a position to make after just three days in the ministry.

She said considering Mr Littleproud had only been in the job three days before making the announcement, it appeared he was blindly playing a political game.

‘‘It is particularly concerning because (enforcing the 450GL) is a massive decision, yet made by a minister who has not had time to gain a full understanding of the Basin Plan or its impact on rural and regional communities,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘It also contravenes the original Basin Plan legislation, under which the 450 gigalitres would not be delivered if there were adverse social and economic impacts. Independent reports are telling us there will be serious economic consequences from the 450 gigalitres.

‘‘It is particularly disappointing that the 450 gigalitres has been supported without even attending a meeting of Federal and State Water Ministers (MINCO) to gain a greater understanding of the issues around the Basin Plan and its implementation.’’

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