Shepparton and Mildura are being promoted by respective National MPs Damian Drum and Andrew Broad as future homes for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
The folly of shifting the MDBA to a country centre to make it more accessible and responsive to irrigation communities is seriously flawed and would in fact do quite the opposite by isolating the authority from the bulk of communities across the basin and other government departments by the tyrannies of distance and transportation services.
As anyone travelling to Canberra can testify, even this city can be difficult to connect with at times, and expensive, but can you imagine communities from across the basin being expected to travel to Shepparton or Mildura?
Shepparton, with no commercial flights and very limited rail service, and Mildura, even more isolated but with limited commercial flights, would make the MDBA more isolated than ever to all but the fortunate electorate selected and close-by communities.
The most recent example of this emerging National Party policy is the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority shifting to Armidale in Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s electorate of New England, which has farmers, veterinarians and chemical manufacturers opposing the move, fearing the authority will lose highly specialised experts from its staff.
The government’s own cost-benefit analysis, conducted by Ernst and Young, found there were no material economic advantages to support the $25.6million relocation, and warned the APVMA may be unable to relocate, recruit and replace key technical staff and management, and could lose access to stakeholders.
I support increasing the MDBA’s presence across the basin with the recent appointment of regional engagement officers in five key centres, including Shepparton.
As described by MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde, the REOs “provided a new avenue for local people to feed their experiences, concerns and aspirations back to the MDBA, and was an important step towards greater community understanding of the basin plan”.
I understand the political attraction to the National Party and the motives of those opposing the implementation of the basin plan, however this proposal is symbolic of self-interest and parochialism that has plagued the Murray-Darling Basin for more than 100 years.
For our region, support of this government policy is not without risk — risk of having MDBA headquarters shifted to a region less accessible and far more remote than its current site.
Realistically, I consider Shepparton, despite our many attributes, unlikely to achieve the political support required to edge out other basin cities and suggest we must be careful what we wish for.
—John Pettigrew, Bunbartha