Keelty meets with farmers in Shepparton

By Country News

Environmental flows, floodplain harvesting and water allocation were key issues addressed by local farmers at a public meeting in Shepparton for an inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Interim Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources Mick Keelty has been attending town-hall sessions across the Goulburn Valley to gather feedback he will compile into a report, providing recommendations to a ministerial council by Tuesday, March 31.

From 10 am on Thursday, February 27, the Shepparton RSL filled with about 150 local farmers who came to hear Mr Keelty address the key issue of water sharing across states.

Mr Keelty questioned why the basin's water had been divided by state borders and said the draft report recommended a reevaluation of water accountability.

“I'm asking the MDBA to recalculate the 900 Gl available, whatever quantity it ends up being; the question is how it's released and to who,” he said.

Mr Keelty said he wanted to create "a single point of truth" for farmers across the Murray-Darling Basin, rather than having different states answering to varying bodies.

“For every entity that's created, everyone has started websites; where do you go to get the right information?,” he said.

Mr Keelty said he was here to stay despite a three-year term and that he would return for more community sessions in future, to explain why he made his recommendations.

He then allowed the crowd to comment and a room full of hands went up to speak their minds.

Riverland Trading manager Garner Smith from Cohuna said politicians needed to declare a water problem and that irrigators had been stripped of their water with the introduction of high and low-water reliability.

“In Victoria 30 years ago, we got a 100 per cent water right and government interference to water rules caused an increase in water usage,” Mr Smith said.

Benjeroop irrigation farmer Lindsay Schultz asked when change would occur, with the impending deadline for the report approaching.

“I'm trying to get across the urgency of getting water to farmers, by March 31st,” Mr Schultz said.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks then led a second meeting where he commended Mr Keelty's character in comparison to other politicians.

“There's a lot of corporate bastards stealing your water,” Mr Brooks said.

“They'll buy water in our region and do inter-valley transfers.”

Mr Brooks then collected the names of people interested in forming a committee to represent Victorian farmers.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed agreed with the idea and said farmers needed to come together when it counted.

“The thing politicians need is one lobby group to get a plan of about four or five things that really matter,” Ms Sheed said.

Tensions rose throughout the meeting and frustrations were directed at representatives from the Victorian Farmers Federation.

Many people from the crowd believed the Victorian Farmers Federation did not represent them appropriately, showcasing the division between farmers and organisations.