Pre-election water debate in pipeline

By Alana Christensen

Shepparton could soon play host to a Nationals versus Labor water debate, with the two parties pushing to organise an event before the federal election.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie threw down the gauntlet in Shepparton on Friday, saying she was ‘‘very, very happy’’ to take part in a debate with Shadow Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Australia Lisa Chesters.

Ms Chesters, who is the Federal Member for Bendigo, confirmed she and Senator McKenzie were in talks to organise a debate and it was simply a case of finding a date.

‘‘I would argue, if Bill Shorten can’t get to places like Shepparton, if Bill Shorten can’t get out to regional communities and on farm, then Lisa Chesters needs to come and have a debate about agriculture, a debate about the future of Australia in a place like Shepparton,’’ Senator McKenzie said.

‘‘Bring it on.’’

It remains unclear whether the debate will in fact eventuate, but Ms Chesters said it was ‘‘great to see’’ the growing focus on regional Australia during the election, pointing to water and 457 visas as some of the key issues.

Yet with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and water buybacks increasingly gaining attention in metropolitan centres, Senator McKenzie accused ‘‘city people’’ of not understanding the current situation in regions.

‘‘In a time of drought water is top of mind for everybody,’’ she said.

‘‘When there’s no water for your allocation it is a very hard pill to swallow.

‘‘To have your zero allocation, dying crops, loud stock in the paddock because they’re hungry and thirsty, and have water flowing past your door to water a state very, very far away — that’s a hard pill to swallow.

‘‘Anyone that lives in these communities knows we cannot give even one more gig(alitre) up for this thing.’’

It was a point of frustration for Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum, who said it was like Australia had ‘‘lost its moral compass’’ and Melbourne and Sydney ‘‘couldn’t give a stuff’’ about the plight of the country.

‘‘While 10 years ago you could have acknowledged that we had sick rivers while the communities enjoyed the spoils of water, now we have over-abundant water flowing down our rivers and sick communities,’’ he said.