General News

Tocumwal rally demands water minister’s resignation

By Sophie Baldwin

Demanding 'Littleproud has got to go', 'enough is enough you don't give a stuff' and 'Sussan Ley is M.I.A.', Barooga mixed farmer Carly Marriott cut a determined figure as she led irrigators and community members through the main street of Tocumwal last week.

A large and passionate crowd of 3000 descended on the foreshore, united in the desire to pause the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and call for the resignation of Federal Water Minister David Littleproud.

Tired of repeated attempts to have their desperate pleas heard, an effigy of the water minister was dropped from the Tocumwal bridge, which was shut down during Thursday's rally, with one member of the crowd quipping they hoped he floated all the way down the Murray River to South Australia and out to sea.

The crowd called for solutions to help ease some of the pain the community is feeling, including immediately allocating 1000Gl of conveyance water to southern basin irrigators.

Blighty dairy farmer and speaker Lachlan Marshall, who has started the heart-breaking process of destocking his dairy herd, told the crowd continued water mismanagement was going unchecked and must be stopped.

"If it occurred at this level in any other sector — health, education or public transport — heads would roll and we would have a royal commission," Mr Marshall said.

“But in water, because it is a very complex area, the water minister is being allowed to get away with it. Enough is enough."

The absence of Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley was also noted, with one speaker describing her as "missing in action" and a protester sign quoting 'Desperately Seeking Sussan'.

Southern Riverina irrigators have found themselves in the same position as they were last year — zero allocation, skyrocketing costs, crops dying and a federal member who, according to Mr Marshall, appears to be like the comic book character Susan Storm, the invisible woman.

He also described Mr Littleproud as "Aquaman".

Both MPs were unavailable to be contacted by phone for comment, but Mr Littleproud's office said he would "continue to meet with irrigators and communities across the basin, however, it is difficult for me to meet with anyone taking legal action against the Commonwealth before that action is resolved".

His office declined to comment on the rally's call for his resignation.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed called for Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum to move from the Nationals to the cross benches and stand up for the community and help fix the basin plan.

Rally organiser Jan Beer said there were immediate, medium and long-term solutions which would overcome many of the present issues, but the Federal Government was refusing to listen.

 “We are desperate to work with governments to develop a basin plan that provides the social, economic and environmental balance we were promised," Ms Beer said.

Rally organiser Darcy Hare said he was "exceptionally happy" with the turnout, considering people travelled up to two hours to attend.

"The tide is starting to turn," Mr Hare said.

Deniliquin mixed farmer John Gatacre said it was "fantastic" to see so many people united in support.

"We are sick of being treated with contempt and we want something done now," Mr Gatacre said.

"My old man has been here for 60 years and he said it didn't matter whether we had a spring or not because that was what we had irrigation for — billions of dollars have been spent on irrigation infrastructure and development, and we have no water." 

Girgarre dairy farmer Pat Nicholson said he attended the rally because water was impacting his dairy business and without change, he — along with many other farming businesses in northern Victoria — would not be there in the future.

"There was so much support there today — not just from farmers and irrigators, but the wider community as well," Mr Nicholson said.

"I think it sends a clear message, especially to the politicians who were not there, something is happening and they can't continue to bury their heads in the sand."

The protesters passed the following motions: 

- We call on the Victorian and NSW governments to withdraw from the current implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. 

- We call on the Federal Government to immediately pause, review, revise and fix the the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

- We demand the Federal Water Minister David Littleproud be immediately removed from his portfolio as we have no confidence or trust in his ability to deliver a plan on a sound economic, social and environmental footing.

- Immediately allocate 1000Gl of conveyance water to southern basin irrigators to provide immediate relief, particularly to those on their second successive year of zero allocation.