Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has infuriated Southern Riverina farmers with comments about a water rally in Albury.
The rally was held on Tuesday to highlight the zero water allocation, the waste of water in the NSW Murray and the need to pause the Basin Plan.
It attracted more than 1,000 people, angry at governments who are failing to take action to fix their crisis.
Two days later Mr McCormack was questioned about the rally and asked by a journalist, ‘‘is there anything better than just telling people to pray for rain; can you deliver anything better than that as a solution?’’.
Mr McCormack responded by talking about a report into the Darling River fish kills and money the government had committed in that region.
‘‘When are the Nationals going to wake up?’’ Deniboota Landholder Association chair Alistair Starritt asked.
‘‘They seem to have two responses to any question about water – it’s either ‘we can’t make it rain’, or ‘it’s the drought’.
‘‘How loudly and clearly do we have to tell them that the problem is all around poor water management and massive wastage, and that problems in the Darling are a separate issue to those in the Murray?’’
Mr Starritt said the frustration being felt by farmers in the once Nationals’ stronghold is probably at an unprecedented level.
‘‘They lost the seat of Murray in the state election with a massive 27 per cent swing and their Liberal colleague Sussan Ley could be destined for the same fate in Farrer at the federal election.
‘‘And it’s all happening because some of their leaders refuse, for political reasons, to take the necessary steps to fix our water crisis. Former leader Barnaby Joyce knows they lost state seats because of the Basin Plan and wants it reviewed, but Mr McCormack keeps taking the party line.’’
Mr Starritt said the Nationals need to wake up to the fact there is more to Australia and its food bowl than the Northern Basin.
‘‘Unfortunately it does not even surprise us anymore that the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals’ leader, who hails from the Riverina, cannot even adequately advocate for the water issues being faced in the New South Wales Murray.
‘‘It makes us wonder whether we would have this whole Murray-Darling Basin mess if we had politicians who actually understood how the river systems work.
‘‘How can anyone allow a situation where the Murry River is in flood during a drought, simply because flow modelling tells bureaucrats how much water they should send to South Australia?
‘‘Strong politicians representing rural Australia would not allow this to happen.
‘‘Are we angry? You bet we are! And when we hear political comments from the Deputy Prime Minister that ‘I can’t make it rain’, or when he responds to a question about the Murray River system with what the government is doing in the Darling, our anger just grows more.
‘‘When will our leaders stand tall and provide the real solutions that our communities are looking for? They’re not as difficult to find as Mr McCormack might think, but they may take a bit of political willpower, which seems to be sadly lacking.’’
Mr Starritt said it appears neither the Nationals or the Liberals have learnt anything from the state election results, adding that they can expect a similar backlash on the federal election day on Saturday, May 18.