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‘Conned’ by appointment, say angry farmers

Farmers are furious and say they were “conned” by the Federal Government’s appointment of a Murray-Darling Basin ‘top cop’.

Former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty was appointed the Basin Plan Inspector-General last year to appease angry irrigators and their community supporters when they descended on Canberra for a protest rally to call for changes to fix the Basin Plan.

But Mr Keelty has resigned before anything meaningful has been achieved, and farming advocate Lachlan Marshall says the appointment was obviously just a political ploy by former Water Minister David Littleproud.

“To say we’ve had a gutful of governments playing with our livelihoods and communities is an understatement,” an angry Mr Marshall said.

“I don’t think Littleproud and his government cohorts had any intention of trying to bring about the changes that are needed. They were faced by thousands of angry protesters in Canberra and to keep us quiet they promised us the world but have again delivered nothing.

“We were probably naïve to think Littleproud would do anything else,” he said.

Mr Marshall, a dairy farmer who is Deputy Chair of the Speak Up Campaign, said NSW Murray farmers want Mick Keelty replaced with a “fair dinkum Inspector-General who will work with us to call out faults in the Basin Plan and help get them fixed”.

“We want the current Water Minister Keith Pitt to consult with us about an appointment … we want input so there is at least a little confidence that this person will genuinely work with us to find solutions to this disastrous plan.”

Mr Marshall described Mick Keelty’s role as Inspector-General as “the consummate political appointment”.

“He came to our region and people flocked to his meetings. He listened, nodded and acknowledged we’d been dealt an unfair hand under the Basin Plan. He agreed the NSW Murray and northern Victoria were suffering from an agenda to meet South Australian flows and deliver environmental targets.

“Then he went back to Canberra and the report that his master Littleproud wanted was released. What they do not understand is that farmers and communities who were given some hope have been left devastated … let down again by a political system that prioritises attracting city votes over hard-working farmers and the communities which rely on them.

“In reality, many of us were shell-shocked at the failure of the Keelty report to deliver the solutions we thought would be forthcoming, though now we understand he was probably only doing what he was told.”

Mr Marshall said if the Government is fair dinkum about the Basin Plan Inspector-General’s position it needs to work with communities on a swift replacement, then let the new appointee get on with the job without political interference.

“There are opportunities to use water wisely; to stop the waste that Governments have refused to address and deliver a balance that shares water effectively between environmental and productive use.

“Keelty’s reign has been a wasted exercise with farmers, communities and taxpayers missing out again. We’ll wait and see if Keith Pitt has the leadership capabilities and political courage to do anything differently with the next appointment,” Mr Marshall said.

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