The Speak Up Campaign has welcomed the return of Barnaby Joyce as leader of the federal Nationals and immediately called on him to again visit the NSW Murray region.
Speak Up Chair Lachlan Marshall said communities in the region had found it difficult to effectively engage with former leader Michael McCormack and Speak Up has long believed that he was not doing enough to identify problems with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and work towards solutions.
In his previous tenure as Deputy Prime Minister and Water Minister Mr Joyce visited the region in October 2016, during which time he listened to local concerns.
He was told the Murray River system was not able to deliver the volumes of water modelled in the Basin Plan, and this was a clear indication the plan was not working. While Mr Joyce acknowledged there were “political challenges”, he gave local stakeholders confidence that he would fight for changes.
“Many people have questioned whether the Nationals have fought hard enough for the changes that are desperately needed to the Basin Plan,” Mr Marshall said.
“They were instrumental in delivering a Senate Inquiry report in 2016 that made more than 30 recommendations, but the report has done nothing but sit on a shelf gathering dust, and the Nationals have not tried to force implementation of these recommendations. That’s why a fresh, stronger approach is needed.”
“Nearly five years ago, during Barnaby’s visit, it was generally accepted that there was a long way to go before we had a workable Basin Plan. We haven’t advanced much since that time, and whether the party which we expect to represent rural and regional Australia has fought doggedly enough to bring about change is questionable.
“As soon as Barnaby was replaced as Water Minister by David Littleproud, all we heard was Littleproud echoing the Liberal Party line that the Basin Plan must be completed ‘in full and on time’. That was a slap in the face to common-sense and our communities by the Minister and the Nationals. Why would you barge ahead with a failing plan? Why not accept the shortcomings identified by the Senate Inquiry and do something to fix them?” Mr Marshall asked.
He said because of his previous experience as Water Minister, Mr Joyce has a broader understanding of issues that need addressing than many of his colleagues.
He added the need for action had become even more critical amid concerns of reduced future flows. Even under current flow regimes huge quantities of water are still being wasted through unnecessary flooding and being poured out to sea. These high flows, to keep the traditionally estuarine Lower Lakes full of fresh water, are also causing river slumping and other environmental damage to the Murray River system.
“We have been calling for action for more than five years. We would like to see Barnaby Joyce show us that he is fair dinkum about revitalising the federal Nationals and ensuring they more effectively represent the needs of our communities.
“I hope to have the opportunity in the very near future to discuss our issues with Mr Joyce so our region can return to being the food bowl of Australia that produces the staple foods on which our people rely.
“The days of farmers walking off the land in despair, brought about by poor government water policy, need to end,” Mr Marshall said.