Protesters speak out against basin plan

By Country News

More than 100 members of the region’s agricultural community protested in Rochester last week against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Candidates for the seat of Nicholls — including Damian Drum (Nationals), independents Andrew Bock and Jeremy Parker, Stewart Hine (United Australia Party) and Bill Lodwick (Labor) — gave their views on the issue.

Promoting the May 6 rally, organised by the Central Murray Environmental Floodplain Group, was media personality and former VFL player Sam Kekovich, who has had a strong involvement in the agriculture industry during the past 15 years.

‘‘Many stakeholders in the region have been asking for answers for some time now as the Murray-Darling Basin’s water levels continue to get lower, causing a knock-on effect for dairy farmers around the region,’’ Mr Kekovich said.

‘‘Still hurting after the closure of Murray Goulburn’s Rochester dairy factory last year, locals want a solution as more dairies close their doors in search of something with more stability.’’

Despite the passion from the crowd, some believe the numbers are not enough to be heard.

‘‘It’s our numbers that let us down, there’s just not many of us any more,’’ Gunbower dairy farmer Stephen Brown said.

‘‘If we were going to vote on who produces the most there would only be one party and that’s the farmer’s party, we’d be running the country.

‘‘Why should the farmers shoulder the whole burden of fixing the environment? Financially we are carrying the whole lot ... and we just want to be heard and supported.’’

People at the rally wanted to know what each of the candidates would do if elected and how would they improve farmers’ lives.

Mr Drum, who holds the seat of Murray which will be renamed Nicholls after the election, said the electorate was not being ignored.

‘‘There has been a lot of money poured into it in the last three years,’’ he said.

‘‘We understand that a lot of money and funding goes into insignificance when it comes to water policy.

‘‘We wanted to make sure we had enough policies in place and enough funding for all the respective states.’’

Many others believed the plan needed to be paused, revised and changed, if not thrown out, to better benefit the farmers left in the area.

‘‘The bottom line is, whether you’re talking about the dairy industry or irrigation in general, we need to get the (water) price down,’’ Mr Bock said.

‘‘The environment has got too much water and they carry it over.

‘‘Nobody can afford to water at $610 a megalitre and nobody can make a living on $610 a meg — it’s rather concerning.’’