At a meeting held at the Shepparton RSL last Thursday, a room full of concerned farmers met with Inspector General of Murray Darling Basin Water Resources, Mick Keelty AO, to provide him with their concerns about the Murray Darling Basin Plan and its impact.
At the start of the meeting, Mick outlined his role and his independence. He then went on to explain some of the pressing issues that he had encountered that interfered in an equitable distribution and use of waters in the Murray Darling System.
The list of problems began with the floodplain harvesting that takes place in Queensland and northern New South Wales. He reported that the incoming Federal Minister for Resources and Water, Keith Pitt had been to see the situation and had indicated he wants to see change on that.
A further major problem was with the losses due to the conveyance of water back to the environment not being factored into the equation of the amount being transferred. There were other issues about the added environmental impact some agriculture had, for instance rice production provides an environment for water birds and and the like.
Another major problem was the large scale interstate transfer of water allocation from Victoria and New South Wales to almond farms in South Australia that is not accounting for the conveyancing costs that local farmers are supporting.
This meeting followed from a smaller meeting he held the day before with a number of farmers and industry people who had registered earlier. Chris Bourke, a farmer from Nathalia attended the meeting and he laid out his concerns for the degradation the flow through the Barmah choke was causing.
Mick then opened the floor for questions and comments. Much of the commentary looked at local issues and questions concerning degradation of the river banks due to unseasonal high flows.
People in the audience expressed ‘inquiry fatigue’ and questioned whether anything positive was likely to come out of this town hall meeting.
The Inspector General said his report was due on March 29 and the government had a legal obligation to publish it within 15 days and hesitated on making any specific arguments until he finished his inquiry.
Local Member for Shepparton District, Suzanna Sheed was at the meeting and said, “He appears to be very sympathetic, I think people here feel they are being listened to and I get a sense that the people in government may rue the day they called for this inquiry.”
The middle of April will be eagerly anticipated by all when the report is to be published.