The community-based Speak Up Campaign has called for the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Sir Angus Houston to prioritise a visit to the NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee regions.
And as soon as COVID-19 border closures ease, he must visit northern Victoria.
Chair Shelley Scoullar said Sir Angus needs to reinvigorate the MDBA’s community consultation and involvement. His appointment was announced by federal Water Minister Keith Pitt on Saturday.
“Our communities are frustrated and disappointed with the MDBA’s ongoing refusal to effectively communicate and engage. It refuses to acknowledge shortcomings in the Basin Plan, nor work collaboratively to implement a fair and effective plan.
“Several years ago the MDBA came to Deniliquin and promised ongoing dialogue and communication. However, as soon as we questioned some of their actions this quickly stopped. Our communities were misrepresented by the MDBA and we have lost trust in its ability to deliver a plan that works for everyone.
“Sir Angus has an opportunity to re-set the relationship with our communities and help us work on solutions that can improve this failing Basin Plan.
“However, to achieve this he must do what those previously involved in the MDBA have not been able to – that is, listen to our community leaders and the solutions we can provide. Accept the fact that those who have lived and breathed our river systems for generations have valuable knowledge that should be welcomed, not ignored.
“There has been strong criticism of the MDBA from many quarters, including the Productivity Commission, politicians, advocacy groups and our communities. It’s well founded, because this organisation seems hell-bent on spending $13 billion of taxpayers’ money, with little concern for the well-being of farmers or the towns that rely on them.
“It won’t even address environmental damage caused by some of the present plan delivery methods, such as riverbank slumping from running rivers too high, carp breeding proliferation and wasting water with unnecessary forest flooding,” Mrs Scoullar said.
She added there must be some concern around Sir Angus’ lack of experience in water management, which is a very complex issue.
“While we have the greatest respect for his distinguished defence career, he must not fall into the trap of only listening to the bureaucrats, who have their own agenda. He must also be aware that his bosses at the Liberal Party are more concerned with South Australian votes in marginal seats than the welfare of our rural people, as Coalition members have already acknowledged.
“To get a broader understanding of issues being faced it is imperative that a visit to the Murrumbidgee and Murray regions of New South Wales is the highest priority, as this is where we are seeing unnecessary Basin Plan damage.
“Speak Up looks forward to helping coordinate a meeting with Sir Angus and community leaders very soon, and helping to improve his understanding of water and its importance to our region,” Mrs Scoullar said.