Irrigators walk out on Ley lunch

By Geoff Adams

Disgruntled northern Victorian irrigators who attended a speech delivered by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley were disappointed to miss out on putting questions to the minister.

The group walked out of the Rural Press Club lunch in Melbourne on October 25 when it was clear they weren't going to be allowed to put questions to Ms Ley.

A Rural Press Club spokesperson said they simply ran out of time, and audience members could have approached the minister after the formalities were over.

The seven farmers were also unhappy with the content of Ms Ley's talk.

While ostensibly designed for the working media, the lunches are also open to the public.

The irrigators said they were happy to let the media have first opportunity to ask questions, but the time ran out without giving the farmers an opportunity to put any questions.

Katunga farmer Paul Stammers said it felt like a deliberate attempt by Ms Ley to run the question time down, without inviting other guests in the room to be involved.

“She would have known that there were businesses that rely on irrigation at the event,” Mr Stammers said.

“Farmers strive to leave the land in better order than when they first took on the responsibility of managing that land, it is how the land has been able to provide an income for families and communities for generations.

“Taking the water away from the GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District) will turn the food bowl into a desert.

“After feeling like we’d been given as much attention as a NSW water allocation, the seven of us left the table and walked out of the event in disgust.

“We were simply attempting to get answers for questions that have not been listened too through other means.”

Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities secretary Anita Seiter said it was "incredibly difficult to put our trust in our leaders, when they blatantly avoid their constituents".

“Her speech was more about herself and her electorate, rather than what the government is actually doing about the water issue or even how they are going to fix the damage to our environment, which one would assume she has a substantial knowledge of as it is her portfolio,” Ms Seiter said.

Numurkah farmer Dudley Bryant said Victoria put in place farm dam legislation in 2002, which strictly policed the building of new farm dams.

“I wanted to ask the minister why that legislation hasn’t been applied to the other states in the Murray-Darling Basin,” Mr Bryant said.

“Victoria has led the way in water reform, and to our detriment the Darling River states have lagged behind, in particular the Darling River and its communities have suffered the most.”

Katunga dairy farmer Bridget Goulding said Ms Ley acknowledged water was vital, but "did she realise that personal lives have been destroyed in the wake of this mess?"

“The unrelenting stress of keeping a business alive under these conditions, and these stresses often manifest as physical, verbal and emotional abuse towards one's family members,” Ms Goulding said.

“We urge all people living and working in the GMID to join with NVIC,” Mr Stammers said.

“There is a lot of attention in the media about the misconduct of the MDBA (Murray-Darling Basin Authority) and mismanagement of water as it flows downstream and into the ocean.

“We need numbers to influence the local government and to show members of parliament that what they are doing to our rivers and community is not accepted."