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Positive steps, but a long way to go

Two passionate community advocates who want renewed honesty and collaboration say they had positive meetings during a Murray-Darling Basin Authority visit to the Murray region.

Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar met new MDBA chairman Sir Angus Houston and CEO Phillip Glyde on the banks of the Murray River in Albury, while deputy chair Lachlan Marshall hosted the pair on a visit to his Blighty dairy farm.

The need for a re-set of the Basin Plan was front and centre during their amicable discussions.

Speak Up has been strongly critical of the MDBA for several years and this fact was not hidden at the meetings, in particular over the organisation’s failure to appropriately acknowledge the Basin Plan’s negative impacts on the environment and communities.

“Sir Angus, like myself, has found life has taken him in unexpected directions, so in that respect we found some common ground,” Mrs Scoullar said.

“In so many respects I would love to be still growing rice, feeding people throughout the world and providing a thriving habitat for all sorts of birdlife and reptiles. In the end this was not possible, largely because of the pressure on our operation from the Basin Plan. So here I am now living in Albury, but still determined to find solutions that will protect our nation’s food production and the parts of the environment which excess water flows are destroying,” she added.

“I pointed to the fast-flowing Murray River, which is running quite high, and explained a major problem is that many people believe this is what the river should always be like. They do not understand that historically it often ran at a trickle, or would run dry. We cannot return the environment to pre-European conditions because there have been too many changes, but what we can do is look for opportunities to achieve ecological outcomes. This needs to include on-farm initiatives which are not part of the Basin Plan, but need to be.”

At Blighty, Mr Marshall also spoke about the MDBA’s insistence that it only reports on positive aspects of the Basin Plan, therefore not fully informing governments and the Australian public of the damage it is causing to our communities.

“Many of my former neighbours have unnecessarily lost their livelihoods from this unacceptable approach. These are hard-working farmers who took my brother and I under their wing when we moved here 14 years ago, and it’s an attitude that drives a knife through my heart,” a passionate Mr Marshall explained.

Mrs Scoullar told the MDBA chiefs it was farmers like Lachie Marshall that are her motivation for continuing to fight for a fair go.

“I live in hope that one day we will get proper recognition of the need for better water policy so Lachie and his fellow farmers can do what they do best, which is growing food for Australia and other people throughout the world,” she said.

Mrs Scoullar said in her meeting everyone, including Mr Glyde, agreed that if the Basin Plan was drafted today with the information now available it would look “very different”. However, the challenge continues to be having the courage to accept the need for change, then make it happen.

“My dream outcome would be for the MDBA to publicly declare that Australia can do better than the plan we have, then urge our governments and city ideologists of the need to be more innovative. We could use remaining Basin Plan funds to investigate new opportunities that will deliver the ‘triple bottom line’ and fairness we were originally promised,” she said.

Mr Marshall added: “I think we need more of the essence of rural community soul across the country. It’s unfortunate the MDBA remains primarily a Canberra-based organisation that is removed from the people its decisions affect. This week’s visit was a small step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.”

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