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Democracy in action: Information session ban

The vice chair of a community organisation has been snubbed by a Federal Government department and he says the lack of transparency and accountability is “unconscionable”.

The Speak Up Campaign’s vice chair Lloyd Polkinghorne registered for an information session on the government’s latest water buyback program, which it is terming a “strategic water purchasing framework”.

But his registration was refused and he was told it was an “invitation only” event in Deniliquin, although he believes there are public forums in other regions.

The Deniliquin ‘information session’ will also be off bounds to the media, with the government saying it will offer briefing sessions to journalists which “will allow attendees to feel comfortable to participate in an open discussion”.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, which is organising the session, advised Mr Polkinghorne the ticket he had obtained had been “cancelled” and there were limited numbers due to venue capacity and “Covid considerations to protect the health and safety of all attendees”. However, as Mr Polkinghorne has pointed out, the venue was not revealed until a day before the meeting, and larger venues in Deniliquin could have been available. There just doesn’t appear to be any desire to hire a venue for a larger audience.

Mr Polkinghorne said the transparency around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan had been problematic from the start, but the department under new Minister Tanya Plibersek was “taking it to another level”.

“The reality is, water buybacks hurt our communities. The government has been repeatedly told by farmers, businesses, local and state governments that buybacks should be the last option to recover water under the plan.

“But the new Minister has apparently decided they are the easy option, which for someone who lives and works in Sydney and Canberra is okay, because it has no impact on you. That’s not the case when you live in our region.

“Study after study has shown the adverse effects on our communities from water buybacks, which is why a national meeting of Water Ministers decided they should not be used unless strict social and economic criteria, developed as part of a neutrality test, were adhered to. But under Minister Plibersek it seems that is all out the door.

“The care factor for our communities seem to have been abolished,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

He added the department obviously did not want anyone at its water buyback meetings who may point out the massive job losses in numerous communities from previous buybacks.

“Department personnel, or the Minister, appear to have no interest in the adverse flow-on impacts from buybacks. They have little interest in alternative ways to achieve Basin Plan ecological targets, or the indisputable fact that it does not matter how much water is recovered, only limited volumes will fit down the system due to capacity constraints.

“From a political perspective these are uncomfortable discussions, because they don’t have the answers. So the response is to throw out the flexibility and adaptability that was promised when the Basin Plan was legislated, throw out the constraints management and concentrate on achieving poorly modelled water targets that cannot be delivered, simply to achieve a political objective.

“And now, it’s ‘throw out any community organisation’ from information sessions, because they might ask some uncomfortable questions. This is democracy in action under our Federal Government,” Mr Polkinghorne concluded.

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