Words ring hollow

By Alana Christensen

‘‘Fact is, farm production makes these communities strong and if we stop the farmers from getting the water to be able to access a future for themselves — well, God help Australia.’’

That was the message Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack delivered during a visit to Shepparton and Cohuna last week.

Yet despite repeating the importance of agriculture to the region, local farmers said his words rang hollow.

Mr McCormack visited the dairy farm of Ian and Amy Mathers at Cohuna on Thursday, but they said it just illustrated the lack of leadership in water policy in northern Victoria.

‘‘We know there is no easy fix but we aren’t hearing any options to keep our area viable,’’ Mr Mathers said.

The Mathers family will relinquish dairying during the next couple months.

‘‘Our autumn calvers are sold and they will go in April. We will wind down our fodder reserves and all the water we had sat aside for autumn start-up will be traded on the temporary market.’’

Mr Mathers said his dairy business turned over $1.5million, 90 per cent of which went back into the local community and surrounds.

‘‘That figure will pretty much be nothing now,’’ he said.

Mr McCormack acknowledged the industry was hurting and said the government had offered up $7billion in drought assistance and would continue to support the community.

But Gunbower dairy farmer Stephen Brown said Mr McCormack danced the dance that was expected.

‘‘There was no joy in the room today and they all live in la-la land,’’ Mr Brown said.

Dairy farmer Harry Rowlands said his take-home message from the day was to go home and get his affairs in order, while Cohuna’s David Elliot said it was disheartening to see what was happening to the community.

‘‘I hate to see what is going on. The hardship and sheer frustration people are going through is terrible — they have just had enough. I hope something can be done but the reality is it’s so far out of control, I don’t think they know how to stop it,’’ Mr Elliot said.

Event organiser and industry lobbyist Andrew Gibbs from Primary Partners acknowledged it was good of Mr McCormack to spend five hours in the town.

‘‘The decision makers need to know what is going on ... no-one is being held to account and if we continue to do nothing, nothing will get done,’’ Mr Gibbs said.

Calls to pause the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have been growing stronger, with four meetings across the region held in recent weeks and another planned for this week.

But Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said pausing the plan was simply not an option.

‘‘Just give me a break here; everyone has to understand the absolute crucial nature of what we’re doing at the moment,’’ he said.

‘‘So let’s just be careful. I understand the farmers are angry and upset because it’s so much water leaving the region, the price of water is becoming prohibitively expensive and we understand all of that. But there is a real risk that a future Labor government will make the situation dramatically worse.’’