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Thanks for listening, but it’s time for action

A strong message that the NSW Murray region wants governments to ‘start taking action’ was delivered at a Productivity Commission hearing in Deniliquin on Thursday (June 8).

A big crowd of about 115 attended the hearing, which surprised the commissioners but gave them a stark lesson in the passion of local communities and the frustration at a failing Murray-Darling Basin Plan and governments which refuse to address its shortcomings.

It was not just farmers in attendance, with business and community leaders again attempting to educate those in bureaucracy about the impacts of the Basin Plan on everything from health to education and business viability.

The Speak Up Campaign, which had encouraged people to attend, was represented by chair Shelley Scoullar and other members.

“It was great to see the diversity of community members, who emphasised the human toll of the Basin Plan due to the failure of governments to keep promises of genuine consultation and delivering triple bottom line outcomes. We welcomed the hearing and thanked the commissioners. Unlike other recent Federal Government representatives, they did not sneak into town and meet with selected stakeholders in order to tick a consultation box. Instead, the commission heard about the true feelings and impacts to our communities,” Mrs Scoullar said.

Also at the hearing was Wakool River Association chair John Lolicato who reiterated the public forum was welcomed as these had been “sadly lacking in recent years”.

“But the time for listening, and not taking action, must end,” Mr Lolicato said.

“Our communities continue to provide Basin Plan solutions which governments ignore. Hundreds of reports and reviews have been undertaken, yet nothing changes. We need a literature review of all the previous recommendations, and I have called on the Productivity Commission to also report on the recommendations from its previous reviews, including which ones have been adopted or acted on.”

Mr Lolicato also spoke about the damage from water buybacks and highlighted to the commission it is not the individual farmer who sells water that suffers, but rather those left in the system and the communities which relied on the productivity being generated. He said environmental water holders already own 4,622.5 gigalitres of water entitlements and there must be an assessment of what can be used and delivered before further water is recovered.

“The social fabric of regional communities, particularly in the section of river which has the greatest complexity of delivering these volumes, is being broken. If the Federal Government does not want us to exist anymore, then it needs to come out and say so and stop treating us as second class citizens,” Mr Lolicato said.

Mrs Scoullar said the commissioners were also told by a number of people that water quality in the region’s rivers and creek systems was in decline due to the Basin Plan’s sole focus on water volumes. It was pointed out the Basin Plan was supposed to be about setting a Sustainable Diversion Limit for each region, and the NSW Murray region is using 17 per cent less than what is allowed under its SDL, but this was not being recognised.

“The Productivity Commission called for communities to put forward their solutions; it was made clear we have been doing just that for many years, but it falls on deaf political and bureaucratic ears,” Mrs Scoullar said.

Both Mr Lolicato and Mrs Scoullar thanked the commissioners for their interest in the issue and the recommendations the PC has made in previous reviews. They said it was time for the Albanese Government to start implementing recommendations, instead of ignoring them due to political imperatives, in particular the desire to appease South Australians and city-based environmentalists.

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