Major General Stephen Day received direct and honest stories from Finley High School students during his tour of the area last week.
The national Coordinator General for Drought, along with federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, toured the local area early last week, which also included a visit to channels along the Murray Irrigation system.
He spoke with about 20 students covering different demographics across the region including students from agricultural backgrounds and others from small businesses.
Two Year 11 students — Molly McGrath and Niamh Mason — both live on Southern Riverina farms and spent a long period of time talking to the two guests.
Molly said she told the Major-General about the effects zero water allocation has had on her family.
‘‘The water is bypassing us and is being sent to the ocean. There has been environmental flushes to ecosystems that don’t need it.
‘‘An example of this was when they flooded the Barmah Forest.
‘‘He asked us what effect the drought had on me personally. I told him that it hurts the community which hurts us and our wellbeing.
‘‘If our parents are finding it really hard then that makes it hard on us as well because it’s never easy to see your parents like that.’’
Molly said she wasn’t happy with Major General Day’s response to her experiences.
‘‘He kind of thought of us as if we didn’t know anything; (he was a) little bit patronising. We know he can’t provide solutions then and there.
‘‘We’re people who have to live with this everyday and I don’t know if he’s had any personal experience (like ours).
‘‘It’s great he came to talk to us but I don’t know exactly what to make of it. Hopefully more politicians can make their way to this area before the election.
‘‘It’s not just people like Major General Day but also people in the cities. I know people in the cities and they have no idea what’s going on.’’
Niamh said she didn’t believe the Coordinator-General for Drought completely understood the predicament faced by farmers.
‘‘When I asked him what is he going to do with the water, he said ‘there’s a lot of things a soldier can do but I can’t make it rain.’
‘‘I said to him ‘we’re not in this position because of rain, we’re in this position because of poor management’.’’
Both girls said they would say ‘‘the same thing’’ to other water policy makers and politicians.
‘‘Those types of people need to know what it’s actually like,’’ Molly said.
‘‘There are some people out there who need water trucked into the farm. If there is no water here then Finley doesn’t exist.
‘‘We won’t be able to go to school or shop in the main street.’’
Finley High School principal Jeff Ward said the message sent by his students was they want to be heard.
‘‘I told him that I worry about these kids. I worry if they can’t get to an excursion or if their wellbeing is affected and what the impact is on their learning.
‘‘All of these things that cost money are putting stress on their families,’’ Mr Ward.
The Berrigan Shire wasn’t listed among councils in the Farrer electorate to receive much needed drought funding, whereas it was received by surrounding councils including Edward River and Murrumbidgee.
Although the shire hasn’t publicly denounced the move some sources have expressed anger to the Southern Riverina News the Berrigan Shire is being forgotten about by higher levels of government.
Member for Farrer Sussan Ley said it’s a top priority for her to help secure drought funding for the Berrigan Shire.
‘‘My agenda for last week was to really push home the message that the Berrigan Shire and a couple of other shires further west (Hay and Balranald) need the same level of funding as the Edward River Council.
‘‘It’s on top of my wish list with Stephen Day, and I’m not saying he can deliver it but I’m emphasising how important it is.
‘‘The other thing I want to push in drought policy is making small businesses able to access farm household support so that’s why I wanted him to speak with small business owners, who he spoke with in Deniliquin and Griffith.’’
Ms Ley said she selected Finley High School as place for Major General Day to visit due to the honesty of the students.
‘‘I can remember bringing John Howard (former Prime Minister) during the drought to Finley and this time we have the PM’s eyes and ears on the ground.
‘‘I wanted him to speak directly to the students to hear the unvarnished truth from them about how hard it is, when they know their families are doing it tough; they have their studies and are worried about their future and parents.
‘‘We both spoke to students and there are some great ambassadors for the region at Finley High School.
‘‘They talked very frankly and had some personal conversations, which can be quite heart breaking to hear,’’ Ms Ley said.