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  • Shelley Scoullar

Stop playing games and start protecting regions

The frustrations around politicians who continue to prioritise their personal futures and political game-playing over sound decision-making has been highlighted by the Speak Up Campaign.


Chair Lachlan Marshall said in the past fortnight we had seen the difficulties being faced by regional communities who suffer from the lack of political leadership.


“Speak Up is working diligently with various organisations to find solutions that will give our region a long-term, sustainable future. There are many, many people from different sectors of the community who are working alongside us to achieve this goal.


“Yet these efforts continue to be thwarted because playing politics becomes the priority, and this is extremely frustrating for the many hard-working Australians who just want to get on with the job of making a living,” Mr Marshall said.


He congratulated the Murray Regional Strategy Group and Murray-Darling Basin Authority, along with representatives of numerous local stakeholder organisations and those from state and federal government departments, who gathered in Deniliquin this week (Tuesday May 12) to discuss how they can work together and find solutions that will deliver the sustainability the region is seeking.


However, it came just after politicians bickered and tried to score political points at Senate Inquiry hearings in Deniliquin and Shepparton.


“It is such a shame – and to the detriment of our nation – that we lack the political leadership required to sort through the Basin Plan mess. Everyone knows it’s a mess; everyone knows it is not delivering the ‘triple bottom line’ that was promised, nor are we maximising the environmental protection or the productive use of limited water resources.


“Yet our politicians seem incapable of working with our communities to implement the solutions which we know exist,” Mr Marshall said.


In 2019 a Speak Up delegation met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison who acknowledged he couldn’t fix problems with the Basin Plan because there was an election pending. This was repeated to the recent Senate Inquiry hearing in Deniliquin.


“That’s the crux of the problem,” Mr Marshall said. “It’s all about winning elections, not about national prosperity.


“Speak Up has been accused of being anti-government and anti-National Party, which is totally false. What we are ‘anti’, is the government – including the National Party – refusing to fix a failing plan.


“Senator Bridget McKenzie is on the current Senate Select Committee, and she was at the Senate Inquiry hearings into the Basin Plan in 2015. This inquiry acknowledged the plan needed significant changes and made 31 recommendations, but they’ve been ignored.


“Our local Liberal Member Sussan Ley, just like Senator McKenzie and other regional Coalition members, is rendered powerless by their respective parties. The Prime Minister won’t do anything because he fears backlash from South Australia and city environmental groups, and the Nationals Leader Michael McCormack doesn’t have the courage to stand up to the PM and demand action.


“So our communities suffer and these very politicians who play their political games want to criticise us for calling them out. Where’s the ‘fair go’ in that?”


Mr Marshall called on the Coalition’s representatives in the region and in the water space – including Senator McKenzie, Ms Ley, Senator Perin Davey, Nationals leader Michael McCormack, Water Minister Keith Pitt and Nationals member Damian Drum – to take a leaf from the book of those who sat down this week in a genuine attempt to find solutions to the Basin Plan and its unintended impacts.


“These politicians need to get around a table with us and have a genuine intent to solve the problems they have created. If this leads to a stoush between Michael McCormack and Scott Morrison, then so be it. If the Nationals want to regain respect in this region, they must earn it.


“It is time to acknowledge that we have a Basin Plan built on false assumptions and what is now out-dated science. It is time we all worked together – government departments, politicians and communities – to fix the damage and protect our futures,” Mr Marshall said.


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