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Farmers drive message home

Tuesday, 3rd December, 2019

MP for Murray, Helen Dalton MP for Murray, Helen Dalton

By Callum Marshall

A massive convoy of farmers rolled into Canberra yesterday to push for the axing of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and to express their frustration at the way water is being managed throughout the river system.

Member for Murray, Helen Dalton, speaking before the rally, said government attempts to paint farmers as aggressive and not using their water allocations properly was “absolutely rubbish.”

Mrs Dalton said the protest had attracted “thousands and thousands”.

“We’ve had a peaceful rally here today with thousands of people, trucks, tractors and lots of noise,” she said, “but a very polite and calm rally.

“We want to get to the bottom of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We wanted politicians to come out and address us, which they didn’t bother to do. Not from Labor or the Coalition, which is very disappointing.”

Mrs Dalton said she had spoken to Labor’s Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, about the issues, but said there was still the impression that the major parties in Canberra didn’t know how bad things were. 

“I did go into Parliament House and caught up with Joel Fitzgibbon and they are talking about it,” she said.

“They know we’re here. We’ve certainly made a fair bit of noise. We’re allowed to do that.

“But I don’t know whether they realise how dire the situation is.

“We’ve got dairy farmers going broke, taking their own lives. 

“Our communities suffer because they really knee-capped us.

“If you don’t provide the water, we can’t farm.”

Mrs Dalton also said she was the only NSW politician to address the protest yesterday.

“Katter and Pauline Hanson addressed the crowd on the federal level,” said Ms Dalton.

“We had some state politicians, both from Victoria. 

“We didn’t have any other representatives from New South Wales.

“Now these are very serious issues and when you’ve got thousands and thousands of people turning out you would expect someone to address this both at a state and federal level in the major parties.”

Speaking to the BDT yesterday, Tolarno Station’s Rob McBride said the convoy’s calls to scrap the Basin Plan would cause anarchy and that it would be better to pause it and hold a royal commission.

“You must have a plan and a roadmap going forward,” said Mr McBride.

“The states fought over this for the best part of five to ten years but they eventually came to some sort of agreement.

“It wasn’t perfect but they worked together to get a conclusion.

“The problem is, since its implementation five years ago, you’ve had a Murray-Darling Basin Authority that has done everything to undermine and destroy the plan, as was outlined in the findings of the South Australian Royal Commission.”

Mr McBride said the real issue was how the plan had been managed and that new people, including Barkindji representatives, were needed to properly deal with it. 

“While this isn’t a perfect plan, what we do need is a total change of management at the top levels of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority,” he said.

“We put people with integrity, including First Nations Barkindji nation representation, on that Board to go forward and get integrity back in the river.

“If we don’t have a plan, what have we got? We’ve got freaking anarchy.

“Everybody wants to take twice as much water as they’ve already got and you’ve got no way of policing the people who’ve taken the water.

“If I’m a bad guy in the Northern Basin I’m going to be going hell-for-leather. ‘Yeah f**k the plan, let’s all start from scratch again.’

“(It’ll) send us ten years behind where we are today.

“While we were going to support the movement towards Canberra when it was a ‘Pause the Plan’, when it became a ‘Can the Plan’ thing that’s when we just withdrew our support because we can’t see a future if there’s no plan going forward.”

Mrs Dalton, whose party the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have called for a pause of the plan, said what was important was that the recommendations calling for changes across the basin were properly examined.

“I suppose they’re just using a bit of rhyming words, ‘Can the Plan’...as it resonates,” she said.

“There are things in the plan that may be working but I don’t know of too much.

“But we certainly need to have a look at some of the recommendations. 

“In fact, we’ve had 37 inquiries into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and we need to blow the dust off of those recommendations and actually take a good hard look at that. 

“I’m happy to take the better parts of the plan but I can see so much on every different level that’s wrong with this plan, both environmentally, socially and economically.”

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