Agriculture missing at forum

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Testing time: Rob Priestly (right) speaking beside Steve Brooks at the Committee for Greater Shepparton's candidates’ forum on April 26. Photo by Max Stainkamph

There was plenty of talk but not much about agriculture at the Nicholls candidates’ forum held in Shepparton on April 26.

Nine candidates turned up for the forum, hosted by the Committee for Greater Shepparton and the Shepparton News.

The candidates may well blame the format or the questions, but there was little reference to agricultural issues, aside from a question about water and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Forum co-chair Darren Linton raised the issue of the 450 gigalitres of up-water, which has been added to the water recovery targets under the basin plan. The goal has a socio-economic neutrality test, requiring no negative impacts on rural basin communities.

Mr Linton asked, if the 450Gl target was considered to be impossible to meet, why was it still there?

Nationals candidate Sam Birrell said it shouldn’t be there.

“It was enacted by a Labor government in 2012 supported by two independents and it’s been a problem ever since,” he said.

Mr Birrell said the socio-economic neutrality test protected rural communities from water being taken away, but it was still in legislation and National Party policy was to get it taken out of legislation permanently.

He said an attempt to remove the 450Gl was not supported by the Liberal Party, Labor or any independents.

Mr Linton asked why the Nationals couldn’t convince the Liberals to remove the 450Gl.

Liberal candidate Steve Brooks said one vote in the parliament would not solve the 450Gl question.

“I want to be in the party room and I want to be an expert on this issue for my community in the Liberal Party,” he said.

Asked if they would cross the floor on this issue, Mr Birrell said “yes” and Mr Brooks said he would always vote with his community first.

Independent candidate Rob Priestly said the Coalition candidates would try their hearts out to influence the outcome but they would be rolled by their own parties because of the influence of seats in other parts of the country.

“For the Nats the dominant seats are in NSW and Queensland, for the Libs the seats are in South Australia,” he said.

“It’s not that the parties don’t understand, it’s just that they don’t hold the numbers.”

Mr Priestly said the reduction of water had already hurt rural communities a great deal.

Labor candidate Bill Lodwick said the decision had not yet been made on what would happen in the next two years and there was some hope that water would be recovered through water savings projects.

“We’re not going to hurt communities if the socio-economic impact is going to be so great that the towns will be shut down,” he said.

Mr Lodwick said he did not to listen to panic merchants.