‘‘One strong united voice’’ is how NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey believes the district community can affect change on water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Ms Pavey was in the local area on Monday and Tuesday with Deputy Premier John Barilaro to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding water.
It her first visit to the region in the portfolio offered to her after the March state election, where dissatisfaction with the government’s strength of water policy saw it lose safe seats of Murray and Barwon.
Ms Pavey and Mr Barilaro met with a group of irrigation and community stakeholders at the Deniliquin RSL Club on Monday afternoon, who form the Murray Regional Strategy Group.
The minister has also promised to assist with transparency relating to water, to help irrigators get the respect they deserve from policy makers and to fight for a general security water allocated to not be affected by river transmission losses.
‘‘My message to (the meeting) was ‘one strong united voice’, because that will be the best way to affect change and accountability in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve given them a commitment to publish the agenda so far for the next Ministerial Council Meeting (MINCO) so we can have the thoughts across all of the basin about that.
‘‘I’ve also asked for input into the capacity of the system to manage 80,000 gigalitres at the border. That was work I understand that was asked to be done at the last Murray Darling Basin Authority meeting — which I’m advised hasn’t been done.
‘‘We need to do that type of work to know whether it can be done and, if not, then recalibrate what we might need to do.
‘‘I told the stakeholders we need to be more positive about everyone’s contribution into their efficiencies and what we have returned for a healthy river system.
‘‘But we also need to appreciate, and the message was very strong, how tough many of them are doing it, especially dairy farmers and ricegrowers.
‘‘Both of those are value products.’’
Ms Pavey acknowledged there is work to be done, and said the focus is now about how she approaches the water issues in the future.
‘‘I don’t think anyone expects me to make it rain but there were some very strong messages that the wastage is not acceptable.
‘‘The transmission losses should not be put to the general security account. I just need a very focused approach with how they (stakeholders) want us to address it.
‘‘There were lots of conversations around water sharing and water resource plans.
‘‘There’s the belief many locals haven’t been well engaged and a lot of the issues they’ve been raising over a number of years haven’t been put forward, and that’s actually really frustrating for everybody.
‘‘I’ve asked and will ensure timeframes and adjustments to water sharing plans. My department has been through turmoil over the past two years following very concerning evidence of water theft which has set it back from their task at hand.
‘‘The Deputy Premier firmly indicated we must have agency staff in towns like Deniliquin that are able to respond and make decisions on behalf of irrigators.’’
Ms Pavey said when it comes to guaranteeing water for irrigation and production, it’s hard to make any promises.
‘‘Those who have high water security know the water is there and those with general security know it’s a challenge.
‘‘But we also know that many of our local farmers are managing themselves in a way that secures them for the future.
‘‘In fact the farm deposit scheme has about $6.6 billion in it, which is one of the highest amount ever and farmers know they have to manage for a couple of good years and a couple of bad years.
‘‘I can’t make it rain, I can’t fill the Hume or Dartmouth (dams) but what I can commit to is better transparency and a fairer go.
‘‘I also want to work with Victoria on this. While there are some competitive tensions that need to be resolved, we’re stronger together as the irrigator states.
‘‘We can work towards restoring the respect and absolute need as a state and national economies for what happens in this region to feed our cities, and be part of our financial success as a nation from the export dollar generated.’’
Ms Pavey said relieving some of the concerns about water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was the result of Saturday’s Federal election.
‘‘I’m bloody happy Tony Burke is not the Water Minister because he was going to strip 450 gigalitres out of this system if he had his way.
‘‘I would have stopped him from doing that and wouldn’t have participated in that process.
‘‘Can we take a moment of reflection, a moment of the golden opportunity that now exists with an alignment of federal and state government.
‘‘I want to co-operate with Victoria to assess the success or otherwise of the measures implemented to understand the capacity constraints at the chokes and to see if we can achieve the 80 gigalitres.
‘‘This is the work we need to do now as well as building capacity into the system. We have an opportunity to do some exciting things, to respond to the concerns.
‘‘But I will never be able to stop drought but I can help relieve the impact when we have long extended dry periods into the future.
Ms Pavey and Mr Barilaro’s visit to the region also included stops in Albury on Monday, and the pair continued to Jerilderie to continue discussions yesterday with Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council (YACTAC).
The roundtable discussions in Deniliquin on Monday involved Berrigan Shire, Edward River Council, Ricegrowers’ Association, Speak Up, NSW Farmers Association and local state member Helen Dalton.
Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan said it was an ‘‘amicable’’ type of meeting.
‘‘They told us we need to be a united voice so they can bring that fight to the MINCO meetings.
‘‘As everybody knows water is a complex issues and they know that as well so hopefully they’re willing to work with all of us strategically.’’