Labors’ Murray-Darling Basin Plan policy sparks anger

By Alana Christensen

Northern Victoria and southern Riverina will be the ‘‘sacrificial lambs’’ of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan if Federal Labor water policy is implemented, water leaders have warned.

The ALP’s final water policy, released in a seven-page document last Monday, has left irrigators and water groups fuming.

The party restated its previous promises to lift the cap on buybacks, return to the original neutrality test for the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ and guarantee delivery of the 450Gl, leaving many questioning how much Labor cares about agriculture.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group co-chair David McKenzie slammed the release of the document, saying it would destroy the region.

‘‘We are the sacrificial lambs for a party that doesn’t understand the negative impacts that are being felt,’’ Mr McKenzie said.

‘‘What is (Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke) really saying to our communities?

‘‘This is not practically or morally implementable in northern Victoria or the southern Riverina ... We know where most of (the water) is going to come from.

‘‘This policy is frightening for the region.’’

Mr McKenzie, State Member for Shepparton and GMID Water Leadership Group co-chair Suzanna Sheed and dairy farmer Russell Pell travelled to Sydney in late April to meet with Mr Burke, who was unable to attend the meeting due to an unforeseen family issue.

Despite meeting with one of Mr Burke’s advisers, Mr McKenzie said it had been radio silence ever since, with no response to their invitation for Mr Burke to visit the region, no returned phone calls and only an auto-reply to emails sent to his office.

The water policy was a hot topic at a Rural Issues Forum in Kialla on Monday night, with Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters trying to ease concerns about her party’s policy.

Asked if she thought agriculture could afford to give up more water, Ms Chesters said the 450Gl would not be taken out of the river ‘‘tomorrow’’ and acknowledged all Ministerial Council states would need to be on side to return to the original neutrality test.

‘‘It would be worked on with communities, as per other reports which have been done, like the Productivity Commission. We will work with states and communities on how to manage that,’’ she said.

‘‘Labor’s goal is to restore the original parts of the plan.’’

The policy has been almost universally panned, with NSW Farmers saying any removal of the cap would cause ‘‘havoc’’, Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum saying he was dismayed and the document was ‘‘beyond belief’’, and Ms Sheed saying it was ‘‘cruel’’ and showed ‘‘utter contempt’’ for the GMID and communities across the border.

‘‘We have made so many attempts to tell out story and they’ve just shut the door on us,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘There’s been no response to our calls for them to visit. It’s like they’ve just put it all in the rubbish bin.

‘‘It just makes us very afraid for the future of our communities, knowing we’ve already given up the water and that had been achieved.

‘‘They’ve just kicked the ladder out from under us. It just takes us back to square one.’’