McKenzie and Drum talk about water

By Rodney Woods

Country News caught up with Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum last week at the University of Melbourne's Dookie Campus. Reporter Rodney Woods put the topic of water on the agenda.

Country News: Victoria and NSW  weren't happy about Federal Water Minister David Littleproud not agreeing  to constraints modelling at the recent MinCo meeting. Have you got an opinion on why Mr Littleproud didn't agree to that?

Senator McKenzie: You will have to ask Minister Littleproud. I know that for us, in the National party, we want to make sure our regional communities in the southern basin are as productive as possible.

We don't just have farmers here producing, we actually have towns and communities around them that support them and that's why we have been at the forefront of championing strong socio-economic indicators and making sure that the plan takes into account the human toll of taking water from communities.

Country News: Farmers and their communities are worried about damage the constraints measures are causing to the river. Is there a way we can eradicate this damage. even if Mr Littleproud doesn't agree to more constraints modelling?

Senator McKenzie: Victoria has always had a very sound approach to managing water.

We lead the implementation of the plan in many aspects and I would be encouraging all states to get on with the work.

As a Commonwealth government, we've funded these measures and we want to see these infrastructure projects rolled out as quickly as possible, so we can realise the savings.

Mr Drum: Minister Littleproud has been very strong in his language that he needs the states to get on and do their work.

If we can get the states to agree to a timeline that sits within the basin plan that's legislated, then that work needs to be done.

We're talking mainly about the 605 Gl with the Sustainable Diversion Limits.

If the states don't do that work, future governments are legislated to go after the water any way they can get it.

I think Victoria is going reasonably well with their progress but some of the other states are not and the constraints play a role with some of this stuff.

There are many people out there that would suggest that the constraints just won't work — you're not going to get consent from the communities.

Minister Littleproud is simply stating what he's legally and lawfully obliged to state.

However, no-one has done more to secure agriculture water than Minister Littleproud.

The work around the 450 Gl, putting a socio-economic neutrality test around that, has effectively safeguarded NSW and Victorian farmers against further water leaving that area.

Senator McKenzie: Because we know first-hand, those of us that live out in these communities, that you can't take any more water.

We're at breaking point and we, as National Party MPs and senators for this area, absolutely understand that in a very real and tangible way.    

Country News: Is there such a thing as too many reviews into the basin plan?

Mr Drum: It's legislated that there be a full review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan next year.

So, the way we have worked it is, that these reports that are getting done now will all feed into the official legislated review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan up to 2020.

You can't just all of a sudden do a review  in  2020 and go 'where's the data?', 'where's the information?'.

So what we are doing is strategically making sure these reports, these inquiries will feed into that legislated official review.