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Concerns expressed over Nationals leadership

A leading community group is asking Nationals’ parliamentarians to “think very carefully” before casting their vote in Monday’s leadership ballot.

The Speak Up Campaign says past experience raises alarm bells for the NSW Murray and northern Victoria regions if Nationals’ Deputy Leader David Littleproud is elevated to the party leadership position.

Chair Shelley Scoullar said Mr Littleproud had not been a strong supporter of these regions during his tenure as Water Minister. In fact, when he was appointed to this position under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull he came straight out and stated the Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be completed “in full and on time”, despite the damage it was causing to National Party heartland.

“At this point he had limited knowledge of the Basin Plan, and in particular its impact on our region. Yet without even making an attempt to improve his understanding of what the Basin Plan was doing to communities and the environment in southern New South Wales and northern Victoria, he followed the Prime Minister’s line.

“We do not need career politicians who will toe a party line in preference to making tough calls that stand up for their constituency. After the experiences we have had in our region we have serious concerns about whether David Littleproud is the best person to strongly represent our interests,” Mrs Scoullar said.

She acknowledged that by coming out publicly with this stance there were risks that Mr Littleproud could be further alienated from the region and even less likely to support its needs if he is elected Nationals’ leader.

“We understand that is a risk, but we cannot sit back and say nothing. There was widespread community frustration, even anger, across our region over his efforts as Water Minister and we need local politicians to be aware of this before their votes are cast.

“Voting in the leadership ballot will be a big decision for our Nationals’ representatives, especially the new Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell, NSW Senators Perin Davey and Bridget McKenzie, and Member for Mallee Anne Webster.

“Last year three from this group of Nationals, plus Damian Drum, tried to legislate for better Basin Plan policy, but were thwarted by the Liberal Party … and we did not see David Littleproud joining their fight on our behalf.”

Mrs Scoullar said there are critical times ahead in Basin Plan implementation under the new Labor Government.

“We have to move away from the ‘just add water’ approach that has dogged the plan for a decade and move towards prioritising efficient water management. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that recovering the additional 450 gigalitres is a pointless exercise, because the water will not fit down the system.

“You cannot fit 10 litres of water into a five litre bucket, so why are we trying to pour twice as much water down the Murray than is physically possible? That’s basic physics that politicians, including Mr Littleproud, who insist on delivering the Basin Plan ‘in full and on time’ don’t seem to understand.

“Speak Up, on behalf of our communities, looks forward to working with politicians from all parties and showing them how local knowledge and common-sense can help us achieve a Basin Plan that is in everyone’s best interests.

“Importantly, we need a Nationals’ leader who will stand up for our region,” Mrs Scoullar said.

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