Water plea heard

By Alana Christensen

‘‘No water. No food.’’

That was the message more than 200 people delivered on Friday as they marched through Melbourne’s streets calling on Murray-Darling Basin ministers to stop water being recovered from the southern Riverina and northern Victoria.

Coming to rest at the entrance of the Park Hyatt hotel on Parliament Place, the group continued its chant, growing more boisterous as ministers sat inside at the bi-annual Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting.

For many in attendance it was the result of a build-up of many hard years of frustration, high water and feed prices, dry conditions and low returns.

Ultimately, Speak Up Campaign chair and rally organiser Shelley Scoullar said they received the outcome they had hoped for — a community-wide assessment of the socio-economic effects of water recovery.

‘‘It’s a strong step in the right direction. Overall, it’s going to make further water recovery, especially on-farm, very difficult — and that’s a good outcome,’’ she said.

The result was also welcomed by Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum.

‘‘The wording and detail in (Friday’s) agreement mirrors what our irrigators and community have been calling for,’’ he said.

‘‘We all know water equals wealth and the wealth in the Goulburn Valley extends way beyond the farm gate, to the prosperity of all the cities and towns throughout the GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District),’’ he said.

Several water advocacy groups had called for the Sefton report to be released ahead of Friday’s meeting to give communities confidence their concerns had been heard.

Basin ministers supported the release of the report, which is now public, at the meeting on Friday.

Calls to pause the plan were heard throughout the rally, while the plan was ceremoniously burned at the Park Hyatt to the cheers of the crowd.

GMID co-chair and Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed was among those who took to the streets.

‘‘It’s now not just the socio-economic impact, it’s now the environmental impact too, because we’re seeing rivers being damaged. It’s almost like there’s a failure across the triple bottom line ... There can be no more negative impacts on our communities,’’ she said.

Mrs Scoullar, who farms at Deniliquin, is one of many continuing to struggle with a zero allocation which has seen production plummet.

‘‘I’m really concerned, the mental health issues for our communities are at breaking point,’’ Mrs Scoullar said through tears.

Victorian Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan said it was ‘‘disappointing’’ that key work, including the Sefton report, was not released prior to the meeting.

Yet Environment Victoria, which also held a rally on Friday morning, said a basin plan delivered in full was the environment’s ‘‘best chance’’.