Speak Up

Could Gladys be our champion?

By Shelley Scoullar

This week I had the opportunity to meet with the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Minister for Land and Water Niall Blair. I know that I did not do a very good job of hiding my disappointment that at a “Round Table on Water” there were several organisations from outside the Murray Valley, resulting in four representatives from our valley left with only five minutes to address our concerns with the Premier.

However, I cut my points and did the best I could with limited time to highlight the major concerns for our region.

Here is a snapshot of my message:

For me in the short time I have been involved in water policy and advocacy I have seen community members (who volunteer their time) bend over backwards to engage with government. They not only tell them the problems, but provide the solutions which would save government money and also protect productive water to allow our farmers to get water on farm, thus creating jobs and wealth for the economy.

Yet, at the same time I have seen a government process which has left me disillusioned, as (what seems to me) is a deliberate attempt by agencies and government to leave these people out of meetings, off email lists and not engage with the people best positioned to help achieve a balance between social, economic and environmental outcomes. It would seem that they only want to engage with those people and organisations who will tell them what they want to hear.

Secondly, despite all the warning signs – some from the MDBA themselves (which are not public) - we are marching on business as usual, with vital data and information seemingly withheld. Even within our own communities there are those who do not wish the real impacts and pain of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be publicly distributed. No one seems to be prepared to stand up, be leader and say, “no this is not working and the socio-economic impacts are far great than ever anticipated”.

Lastly, I told the Premier that we are a region who wants to be productive and contribute to the NSW vision of a 30% increase in agricultural production. I pointed out that in 2014/2015 the Gross Value of Irrigated Agriculture in NSW was $3.054 billion, and the Murray Valley contributed $700 million of that or 23%. The state of NSW, or the Nation, cannot afford further productive water to be removed from NSW Murray; not through On-Farm Efficiencies, not through buybacks, not through poorly designed SDL projects which have not been risk assessed by communities who understand their system and certainly not through the 450 GL of Upwater.

What I didn’t get to say was that Water policy is putting a massive strain on producers and the system, and people are thinking about walking away because they cannot afford to get water on their farms. And those people in Sydney and Canberra who make policy decisions do not have to look at those who they impact on Saturday morning at the footy and netball, Friday night at the fish and chip shop or the video store, they don’t bump into those feeling the pain of their decisions in the supermarket, pub or bank.

Having said all that, the Premier to her credit listened and did not defend. She understood that local knowledge has been disregarded and a system needs to be put in place to ensure our common sense approach is valued. I heard the Premier say that she is hands on. So, the ball is in her court and I hope that I am right in thinking that I had a brush with a true leader. A champion who will stand up for the underdog, who recognises and empowers the strengths in people and helps guide their weaknesses. Someone who will recognise the lost opportunities and govern / direct to reverse that and move to provide balance to all her people.