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Battlers form river alliance

Wednesday, 10th April, 2019

One of the 147 semi-trailers on its way to Albury yesterday to join the blockade. One of the 147 semi-trailers on its way to Albury yesterday to join the blockade.

By Craig Brealey

Irrigators in southern NSW have formed an alliance with local river campaigners in the battle to save the Darling and “The Kakadu of the South”.

Delegates from the Darling River Action Group (DRAG) were invited to meetings in Griffith last week by the Southern Riverina Irrigators (SRI) which yesterday conducted a huge blockade of Albury in protest against the mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

At the main meeting in Griffith on Thursday night, which was hosted by the Griffith Business Chamber, the new MP for the state seat of Murray, Helen Dalton, likened the lakes to the world famous Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and asked why a government would empty them.

Arthur Clifton, publicity officer for DRAG, said yesterday that farmers on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers asked the same question.

“The lakes used to supply South Australia but now that we have no river and no lakes, the water for SA is being taken from those farmers,” Mr Clifton said.

“On the Murray in NSW they have zero allocation and on the Murrumbidgee they’re on seven per cent.

“Helen Dalton said ‘Why would you empty the Kakadu of the South?’ I think that’s a very a good question and a really good description of the Menindee Lakes,” Mr Clifton said.

“Everyone at those meetings said they wanted the Menindee Lakes to be put back the way they were.

“Everyone can see the importance of the lakes but the government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.” 

Mr Clifton said the main meeting was called to propose that the Basin Plan be put on hold and that the majority voted for it.

They also wanted the problem of over-allocation of water to irrigators in the north to be fixed.

“They were in total agreeance that there should be strict compliance by irrigators in the Northern Basin with pumping and metering and that floodplain irrigation should not be allowed,” he said.

The meeting was addressed by Ms Dalton whose Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party took the seat of Murray from the Nationals, and Kevin Mack, the Independent candidate for the Federal Seat of Farrer.

Farrer is held by Liberal MP Sussan Ley, and Mr Clifton said everyone was supporting Mr Mack at the upcoming election.

“If he can get Ley out, that might wake the federal government up a bit,” he said.

Mr Clifton said that he and his brother Darryn, the vice president of DRAG, and Rodd Leddra, its president, attended the meeting and then held more talks “late into the night” with members of the SRI.

“We now have a positive working alliance and will share and collect facts and figures to help improve our dire water situation,” he said.

The SRI represents the owners of 1800 farms in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

In February the SRI withdrew its membership of the peak irrigation body, the NSW Irrigators Council. 

The SRI’s chairman, Chris Brooks, said the NSW Irrigators Council no longer represented anyone but the northern NSW cotton farmers.

Yesterday Mr Brooks told the BDT that more than 1000 people had answered the SRI’s call for a blockade of Albury.

“Albury was jam-packed,” he said. “We had 1200 people, and 147 semi-trailers and tractors doing laps of the main part of town, and truck trailers and utes parked outside Sussan Ley’s office.

“That went from about 9.30 to 12 and then we held a meeting in a park that was really well-attended with some good, strong speakers.

“Sussan Ley turned up uninvited and asked to speak. We let her up and the crowd turned on her and then later marched to her office,” Mr Brooks said.

There the SRI delivered a petition signed by 85,000 people demanding that the Federal Government put a pause on the Basin Plan.

Among the signatories were farmers from the Goulburn Valley, the Murrumbidgee and the Murray “on both sides of the river”, said Mr Brooks.

“We gave the petition to Sussan and said ‘here’s the message - we’re sick of it.” 

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