Students seek basin reforms

By Country News

Despite living hundreds of kilometres away from the Murray-Darling Basin, a group of students from Gleneagles Secondary College in Melbourne’s south-east has passed a bill in YMCA Victoria’s Youth Parliament designed to protect the river system.

Years 10 and 11 students Jess Fitzgerald, Luke Gablek, Josh Davis, Fergus Thomson, Brayden Dopper and Julian Oraison debated their bill, which proposes numerous large-scale reforms relating to the basin, in Victoria’s Parliament House on Tuesday.

This includes a Victorian Royal Commission, the creation of a Victorian office to manage the basin, installing water aerators, vegetation, and primary and secondary school education programs.

The students believe the issues surrounding the basin affect all Australians, even those who don’t live near it.

‘‘We’re some kids from the south-east, we’re the farthest point away from the Murray-Darling you can get without being in Tasmania,’’ Luke said.

The students, from a college in Endeavour Hills, believe Victoria can be the catalyst for instigating reform and their bill will create momentum for other states and the Federal Government to act.

‘‘If we all sit back and say, the other states are capable of it, no-one takes specific action,’’ Brayden said.

During debate, some Youth Parliament participants argued this wasn’t an issue for Victoria, given how much of the basin was outside the state. The Gleneagles students disagreed, speaking to how much the Victorian agricultural industry relied on the basin.

‘‘No government, federal or state, has addressed this issue satisfactorily, and many have not addressed it all,’’ Josh said.

‘‘The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is inadequate and if Victoria takes its own action against this, it will prompt the other states to follow suit.’’

By calling for a Victorian Royal Commission, the students hope an investigation of the MDBA will determine whether it is fit to manage the basin.

They are also proposing the creation of an office within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to regulate and revegetate the Victorian catchments, because they believe a lot gets overlooked by only having the national MDBA to regulate the basin.

The preservation of indigenous land and the inclusion of indigenous voices was discussed during debate.

‘‘As a proud indigenous woman, whose country sits alongside the Murray-Darling Yorta Yorta country, I commend the Gleneagles students for putting forward this bill,’’ said Scout Payne, another Youth Parliament participant.

The bill will now be presented to Youth Minister Gabrielle Williams to consider for Victorian legislation.

YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament is a program designed to give young Victorians between the ages of 16 and 25 a chance to be heard at the highest levels of the state government on a wide range of issues relevant to young people’s lives.

Since 1987, more than 30 Youth Parliament bills have gone on to become Victorian legislation.

—Ashleigh Barraclough is a member of the YMCA Youth Press Gallery