Food and fibre producers in southern NSW and northern Victoria want extensive consultation with new federal Water Minister Keith Pitt.
Following a webinar addressed by Mr Pitt on Thursday (May 21), they believe it is important for him to be provided with a more detailed understanding of problems being faced with water management.
While Mr Pitt found it difficult to answer some questions at the webinar, they said this was to be expected in such a complex area.
“Water management and policy is extremely difficult to grasp and fully understand. While we work and live with it every day and see the unique challenges it presents to us, it must be quite daunting to someone from outside the system with no background in this area,” said Speak Up Campaign deputy chair Lachlan Marshall.
“We don’t want to be constantly arguing and fighting for a better deal. We want to work with the Water Minister on practical solutions which are desperately needed.
“Quite obviously the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is not working. Anyone who thinks otherwise is spending too much time in Canberra and not enough at the coalface.
“The great shame is that it can be fixed and we want to work with Mr Pitt so this can be achieved. However, he needs to be committed because we have no doubt there will be city-based bureaucrats who will find any reason possible to avoid solutions,” Mr Marshall said.
Mr Pitt made a quick trip to the region soon after being handed the water portfolio, but it didn’t allow time to meet with food and fibre producers. Then we were hit with coronavirus restrictions, so a more extensive visit has not been organised.
“This needs to be on the agenda as soon as the easing of restrictions permits,” Mr Marshall said.
“Throughout water policy changes, we have not been recognised as stakeholders in the process despite the fact these changes impact our lives and our communities more than anyone else. We have been poorly treated, and calls last week by Mr Pitt’s National Party colleague Senator Perin Davey for there to be ‘a line in the sand’ must be heeded.
“We have had little input into the terms of reference of endless reports and inquiries into the Basin Plan, most of which show various ways in which the plan is not working. Yet barely a recommendation has been implemented as government-funded bureaucrats and agencies drive the agenda.
“We are here to engage and we believe we have workable solutions, if finding solutions is what the government wants. Unfortunately water management has been dominated by bureaucrats whose livelihoods depend on the Basin Plan being delivered ‘on time and in full’. This has made it extremely difficult for rural leaders with solutions to get a word in.
“If Mr Pitt is genuine about delivering a Basin Plan that protects our environment and communities, he will visit and consult with us at the earliest opportunity so we can start working towards fixing the mess that has been created,” Mr Marshall said.
The Speak Up Campaign is a member of the recently formed Southern Connected Irrigators and Communities, which represents numerous irrigator and community organisations across NSW, Victoria and South Australia. They want a united approach to developing solutions that deliver a fair and balanced Basin Plan.