Loud calls to pause the plan

By Sophie Baldwin

A call to pause the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is gaining momentum across the southern Riverina.

The Regional Strategy Group held a meeting in Deniliquin last week to garner support for what its members believe is a failing plan.

About 130 people at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the motion to pause the plan.

The group is also calling for a comprehensive review of the plan by unbiased independent consultants selected by affected communities.

The group previously held a meeting in Barham where 250 people supported the same motion.

Speaker John Lolicato said regional communities were now past breaking point.

‘‘This is a freight train out of control,’’ Mr Lolicato said.

‘‘I have heard 157 dairy farms have closed down since January, our communities are collapsing — we need to acknowledge we need a change in direction.

‘‘We are all over the consultation process, the government are passing the buck and we need to pause the plan and get some breathing space.’’

The group believes the current basin plan is failing the environment and regional Australia.

It says pausing the plan will allow breathing space for water reform-fatigued communities and allow the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder time to prove the benefits of the water they have before they acquire any more.

The group said a pause would also remove the artificial water market that currently exists with the government splashing around billions of dollars available under the basin plan, and an interim period must be used by river managers to confirm what exact volumes of water can be delivered downstream.

‘‘We need to ensure there are no further Federal Government water buybacks under the basin plan,’’ Mr Lolicato said.

Regional Strategy Group chair Alan Mathers said the group was a collective of local government, community groups and irrigator bodies, whose primary objective was to put the brakes on the basin plan and sit down and engage the community.

‘‘There must be an open discussion on all issues relating to the plan,’’ Mr Mathers said.

‘‘We have nothing to lose because we can’t finish off any worse than we are now — there is a whole generation at risk and there is nothing to lose but everything to gain.’’

Wakool Landholders chair Darcy Hare said there had been 35 reports detailing the deficiencies and misleading work of the basin plan, released by groups including the MDBA, the Wentworth Group and South Australian royal commission.

He said aside from the damage to agriculture and rural communities, there were a number of environmental issues including waterlogging of the forest, banks collapsing and the Menindee Lakes.

‘‘We don’t agree with the current format of this plan; this one is not working and we are calling for grass roots support,’’ Mr Hare said.

The group will continue to hold grass roots meetings across the state and is planning to take its message to the city.