Region snubbed by Federal inquiries

By Geoff Adams

Two House of Representative committees examining water issues have completed their inquiries — but neither held hearings to take submissions in northern Victoria.

The parliament’s committee on agriculture and water resources completed an inquiry into water use efficiency, holding 12 public sittings last year, but none were in northern Victoria (the site of Australia’s largest irrigation modernisation project) or in the southern Riverina.

Earlier this year, the committee on environment and energy held an inquiry into the management and use of Commonwealth environmental water. The committee visited Shepparton but did not hold a public hearing.

Water organisations from northern Victoria made submissions to both inquiries, but to speak to them, were required to visit places like Albury, Melbourne or Canberra.

In both cases, the committee travelled to the electorate of its chair to hold public hearings, in Western Australia and Mildura.

State Member for Shepparton and Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair Suzanna Sheed asked if the absence of the committees was evidence they didn’t want to hear from the people most affected.

Ms Sheed has argued the GMID is the worst-hit by water recoveries under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘I wonder why they are avoiding the area that has one of the most articulate groups of water representatives,’’ she asked.

‘‘People in our community can’t always travel to Canberra or Melbourne to meet these committees.

‘‘We all know how many of these inquiries, studies and consultations we have been subjected to.

‘‘It is incumbent on those committees to come to the communities and hear what they have to say.

‘‘It’s very disappointing they have left us out.’’

Federal Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, who served on the two House of Representatives water committees and was chair of the environment committee, defended the committees’ choices of locations for submissions.

Mr Broad agreed that his committee never sat in northern Victoria, but his environmental water committee members came to Shepparton to look at the Goulburn River and met key stakeholders, and received submissions from people in the region.

‘‘The very nature of the job was that we didn’t have the time,’’ the Nationals MP said.

‘‘We call for written submissions, then we say to the people who have submitted: would you like to come and see us and where is a good hub to meet?

‘‘People from Shepparton travelled to Wodonga or Albury and then we travelled to come to Shepparton. Then we went to Mildura and had a hearing there.

‘‘We grouped them together.’’

Mr Broad said it was an all-party committee.

He was asked why the committees never sat in the area which had the biggest water-efficiency project in the most intensive irrigation area of Australia.

‘‘These are standing committees of the parliament which have Liberal, Labor, Greens and Nationals,’’ he said.

‘‘We process where we ask for submissions, then the clerks of the parliament then say where is the most convenient place for those key stakeholders to come to.

‘‘The committee secretary determines where the best place to visit and how all committee members can get to the locations.’’

Why did they not visit this area and go to a small irrigation area in Western Australia?

Mr Broad said the criticism was ‘‘complete rubbish’’.