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Basin boss puts case to angry irrigators

Friday, 16th December, 2011

By Paula Doran

The Chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Craig Knowles, has appealed to thousands of people in Griffith to think hard about their decisions on water reform.

In scenes reminiscent of last year’s Draft Plan on water reform, Griffith locals were passionate in their opposition.

News reports of vocal protests and heckling were dotted with those more creative  - one, a group carrying a coffin, wearing black arm bands and calling for Federal Water Minister Tony Burke to take a stand against water buy-backs from irrigation country.

The Griffith meeting was one of the first community consultations with the MDBA after its plan was released in the 20-week consultation process before the major decisions are handed to the Federal Government.

While Mr Knowles was seen as the “great hope” for temperance in any forecast cuts for water use upon his appointment this year, during his speech yesterday he played the peacemaker, telling the crowd he was friend, not foe, and reiterating his empathy with the great need for change along the Murray-Darling.

Mr Knowles urged the crowd to consider the many opposing needs in maintaining a healthy river system, while also maintaining commitment to the nation’s food bowl.  

“You’ve got the states and territory governments of the Basin at loggerheads.   You’ve got groups, such as yourselves right through the Basin saying, ‘one more drop of water out of production is one drop too much,’” he said.

Reiterating the MDBA’s commitment to investment in infrastructure, Mr Knowles said while the Plan was not perfect, it was certainly not about competition between the varied interests, but rather striking a balance.

Mr Knowles said that “doing nothing” was not an option for the Murray-Darling rivers and their tributaries.  

“I fundamentally know that in the national interest, in Australia’s interest, the values of production and strong economies and healthy communities have to be underpinned by healthy environments.  

“They are not in competition, they must work together.”

The MDBA is yet to announce another round of community meetings, which is expected to include Broken Hill, but the BDT has been told the far west will be included in the “peace talks” before the Plan is sent to Canberra for consideration.

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