Opinion

Water minister must listen to farmers, not bureaucrats

By Country News

By Jan Beer, Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association

Some of us who were fortunate to have a rain-forced break on May 21 took the opportunity to participate in two webinars — one featuring Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt and the other featuring Murray-Darling Basin interim inspector-general Mick Keelty.

I felt extremely frustrated, especially after listening to Mr Keelty, who can see that there are problems, yet in his report he skips over the main issues and misses his opportunity to provide some real solutions.

Many of us are in the second and third decade of dealing with changes to water policy and management.

We have seen a revolving door of water ministers, bureaucrats and advisers who come and go depending on their personal situations and ambitions.

But we are still here, suffering the consequences of bad management and an extreme lack of understanding about the mistakes, and more importantly, the solutions which could return some common sense to this vexed issue.

Our farmers are still trying to do what we do best — grow the cleanest and greenest food in the world.

Our biggest challenge used to be weather and markets, now it’s politicians and bureaucrats more interested in saving their own skins, rather than supporting good policy.

We would like the opportunity to work with governments to achieve this lofty aim, though it’s unlikely this will occur as there isn’t the political willpower.

As for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, it will continue spending the government’s billions until there is no more, because it appears we do not have ministers with the courage to implement the Productivity Commission recommendations.

Numerous politicians have called for the MDBA to be disbanded, but it seems the Federal Government cannot muster the courage to take this step.

I sensed frustration from Mr Keelty with the MDBA.

He’s only been working with them for a period of months, so imagine how we feel after nearly a decade.

It refuses to acknowledge either its own shortcomings or those of the basin plan and shows no interest in working with our communities on any solutions.

While watching the webinar featuring Mr Pitt, it was obvious he has not yet developed much knowledge of his portfolio.

If I could be so bold as to offer him some advice: start listening to people on the ground who know more about water management than your Canberra advisers.

If previous ministers had taken local advice we would not be in the terrible situation that exists today.