Land, water and regional development issues discussed at Echuca meeting

By Alana Christensen

Water leaders have assembled to set a path forward for the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, saying despite a tough season, future planning must be done to ensure the prosperity of the region.

Held in Echuca on Tuesday, June 4, the Moving the Goulburn Murray Region Forward forum brought together stakeholders from across the industry to discuss critical land, water and regional development issues.

Claire Flanagan-Smith from consultancy group RMCG called for the region to be ‘‘on the front foot’’ and take charge.

‘‘This region wants to no longer be receivers of policy decisions, infrastructure; it wants to be more active and say ‘this is what we want’ and ‘this is what we think will increase our resilience to these kinds of changes’,’’ Ms Flanagan-Smith said.

‘‘The master plan has to have a balance of projects and a clear governance process.

‘‘If we get to the end of this process and the leaders within this region understand the concept of resilience and how to actively build those in their policy, to their infrastructure and their plans, this project will have been a success.’’

Yet with high water and feed prices and dry conditions taking their toll, particularly on the dairy industry, Murray Dairy chief executive Jenny Wilson acknowledged the conversation came at a difficult time but welcomed the focus on the future of the region.

‘‘What we don’t want to see is as change occurs, it happens in an ad-hoc way,’’ Ms Wilson said.

And although many dairy farmers have been forced out of the industry due to rising costs, Ms Wilson believes both past and current dairy farmers can offer key insights into what would improve the region’s sustainability.

One person still milking cows is Lancaster dairy farmer Kelvin Bruce. But he said the past few years had been tough to watch.

‘‘To me, it’s sad to see what’s happening in our community ... it’s sad to see our district falling apart really,’’ Mr Bruce said.

‘‘I guess it’s a time of change, but I don’t know. It’s hard to see a way forward and to see what will happen to our district, our schools, hospitals, sporting clubs and all those things that we are a part of and form part of our community.

‘‘It’s pretty hard to keep positive.’’

It’s a feeling Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority chief executive officer Chris Norman acknowledged.

With many producers dealing with mounting day-to-day challenges, he said it was up to organisations like his own to focus on setting a path forward.

‘‘It’s very easy from our perspective, who aren’t living this day-to-day in terms of trying to make an income and look after a family, to talk about the future when people are talking about the day-to-day issues,’’ Mr Norman said.

‘‘But the reality is, if somebody doesn’t, if we don’t start looking — as a region — forward, then we’ll continually be dragged back down.

‘‘We don’t know what the future is ... so we have to build a region, a community, ag industries that can face an unpredictable future but have the agility, the diversity, the skills, to transform into something that is more resilient in the future because the rate of change is just going to continue to accelerate.’’