Minister, premier hear issues

By Country News

‘‘One strong united voice’’ is how NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey believes the district community can affect change on water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Ms Pavey was in the southern Riverina last Monday and Tuesday with Deputy Premier John Barilaro to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding water.

It was her first visit to the region in the portfolio offered to her after the March state election, where dissatisfaction with the government’s strength of water policy saw it lose the safe seats of Murray and Barwon.

Ms Pavey and Mr Barilaro met with a group of irrigation and community stakeholders who form the Murray Regional Strategy Group, at Deniliquin RSL Club on Monday afternoon.

The minister has also promised to assist with transparency relating to water, to help irrigators get the respect they deserve from policy makers and to fight for a general security water allocation to not be affected by river transmission losses.

‘‘I’ve given them a commitment to publish the agenda so far for the next Ministerial Council Meeting so we can have the thoughts across all of the basin about that,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ve also asked for input into the capacity of the system to manage 80000Gl at the border. That was work I understand that was asked to be done at the last Murray-Darling Basin Authority meeting — which I’m advised hasn’t been done.

‘‘We need to do that type of work to know whether it can be done and, if not, then recalibrate what we might need to do.’’

Ms Pavey acknowledged there was work to be done, and said the focus was now about how she approached the water issues in the future.

‘‘I don’t think anyone expects me to make it rain, but there were some very strong messages that the wastage is not acceptable,’’ she said.

‘‘There’s the belief many locals haven’t been well engaged and a lot of the issues they’ve been raising over a number of years haven’t been put forward, and that’s actually really frustrating for everybody.

‘‘The deputy premier firmly indicated we must have agency staff in towns like Deniliquin that are able to respond and make decisions on behalf of irrigators.’’

Ms Pavey said relieving some of the concerns about water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was the result of the recent federal election.

‘‘I’m bloody happy Tony Burke is not the water minister because he was going to strip 450Gl out of this system if he had his way,’’ she said.

Ms Pavey and Mr Barilaro’s visit to the region also included stops in Albury on Monday, and the pair continued to Jerilderie to continue discussions with Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council.

The roundtable discussions in Deniliquin on Monday involved Berrigan Shire, Edward River Council, Ricegrowers’ Association, Speak Up, NSW Farmers Association and local state member Helen Dalton.

Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan said it was an ‘‘amicable’’ meeting.

‘‘As everybody knows, water is a complex issue — and they know that as well, so hopefully they’re willing to work with all of us strategically.’’