In a attempt to summon Federal Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke to experience firsthand the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed travelled to Sydney to declare her concern for the region.
Teaming up with Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership co-chair David McKenzie and dairy farmer Russell Pell, Ms Sheed spent hours travelling to meet with Mr Burke, who was unable to attend because of unforeseen family issues.
While the team had started dialogue with Mr Burke’s adviser in relation to key matters of concern for the region, Ms Sheed said they were naturally disappointed that Mr Burke was not available.
‘‘However, we have extended an invitation to Mr Burke to come to our region either during the current federal election campaign or immediately after, to hear directly from community leaders about the impact the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is having on our region,’’ Ms Sheed said.
She said messages coming from the federal Labor Party about the basin plan were concerning and could have a serious negative impact on northern Victorian communities.
‘‘We have seen a decline of 47 per cent in water use in the GMID putting upward pressure on Goulburn-Murray Water prices to maintain the system,’’ Ms Sheed said.
‘‘At the same time, farmers’ capacity to pay higher water charges is diminished because owning less entitlement means they have to buy more water on the temporary market.
‘‘The high costs of temporary water and fodder, coupled with the drought conditions, are sending farmers in our region broke.’’
Mr McKenzie said the dairy industry supply chain was already breaking down as a result of rising water costs and scarcity.
‘‘Not only are the impacts on the dairy industry resulting in farmers being forced to leave the industry, they will also have a flow-on effect to horticulture in our region,’’ he said.
While many farmers are struggling to stay on the land, Mr Pell said the environment was also facing challenges, particularly as a result of the high rate of inter-valley transfers and additional environmental flows through the Goulburn River system.
‘‘The volume of summer water transfers down the Goulburn River has tripled in recent years and steady high flows are drowning vegetation established to stabilise the banks,’’ Mr Pell said.
‘‘It seems ridiculous that under a plan designed to support a triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic welfare, the health of our river system would be sacrificed for the sake of sending water further downstream for consumptive and environmental use.’’
With the future of food-producing basin communities under threat, Ms Sheed urged Mr Burke to visit the region to hear from local voices.