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Joyce avoids dry argument

Friday, 27th May, 2016

Richard Di Natale, Barnaby Joyce, and Joel Fitzgibbon at the Goulburn debate. Richard Di Natale, Barnaby Joyce, and Joel Fitzgibbon at the Goulburn debate.

By Darrin Manuel

Federal Water Minister Barnaby Joyce has been spared the task of explaining the state of the Darling River on national television, thanks to some unexpected help from Labor.

Mr Joyce, Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale, and Labor’s agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon faced off in a debate on Wednesday night in Goulburn.

At a water meeting in Broken Hill earlier this week, Mr Di Natale said he hoped the event would serve as a platform to hold Mr Joyce to account for the dire state of the Lower Darling and Menindee Lakes system.

Conversation in the opening half hour of the debate drifted between the dairy industry, immigration, live exports and other topics before arriving at foreign land ownership.

Mr Di Natale then took the chance to steer the conversation towards foreign water ownership, before raising the plight of the Darling River.

“Water is such an enormous issue in this country,” he said.

“When you’ve been to the lower Darling and stood on a dry river bed with people who have, for the first time since records have been kept, not seen water flow down the reaches of Lower Darling, you recognise just how critical it is to ensure we address the issue of water.”

Unfortunately the issue of water was not addressed at all, as Mr Fitzgibbon interrupted and talked over Mr Di Natale, and dragged the conversation back onto the topic of foreign land ownership.

Mr Joyce ignored the reference to the Darling River and instead pursued Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments, talking briefly about the government’s foreign ownership register before the debate’s moderator told all three politicians to move on from the topic.

Many locals vented their annoyance at Mr Fitzgibbon online, saying he had cut Mr Di Natale off and effectively let Mr Joyce off the hook.

Mr Di Natale yesterday expressed his disappointment that the issue did not receive significant airtime, but told the BDT he would not rest in his efforts to draw attention to the Lower Darling both before and after the election.

“I was very disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to highlight the tragedy occurring right now on the Lower Darling in detail during the debate,” he said.

“I will do my best to continue raising it during the campaign and will be a champion for the issue after the election.

“When we return the Greens will introduce a motion to the Senate to bring the plight of the Lower Darling to Parliament.”

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