Frustrated farmers march across the Murray

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Protestors demand an immediate pause of the MDBP

PASSIONATE farmers and community members participated in one of the largest political rallies the region has ever seen last week, gathering in Tocumwal and calling for an immediate pause of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP).

Over 3000 were in attendance, demanding politicians listen to the irrigators in Australia’s largest food bowl regarding the failings of the MDBP, which has stripped 25 percent of the water from their communities.

At the beginning of the rally, documentary filmmaker Topher Field called for a minute’s silence to honour those farmers and others who had taken their lives in the battle to survive the loss of water from the community.

Following the emotional rally opening, speakers shared turns telling their stories and demanding change from the politicians.

Blighty dairy farmer, Lachlan Marshall said, “We’ve all bled, sweated and worked our fingers to the bone to build what we’ve built on our farms and homes, and it’s the same for the generation before us and the generation before them. And there are kids here today who will hopefully follow us on.

“But we seem to have hit a real roadblock along the way and that is, unfortunately, are the most powerful people in our country: the Prime Minister, the Environmental Minister and the Minister for Water.

“We have here, an environmental disgrace, right in our environmental minister’s backyard. We have river degradation, environmental catastrophe and human carnage.”

Barooga irrigator Chris Brooks then followed, updating the crowd on the huge $750 million class-action he and other irrigators are taking against the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) for ‘gross negligence’ in wasting 850,000 megalitres of water last season.

“In the last twelve months, we have done a lot of work identifying cracks in the MDBA and we are producing facts to take to the politicians in Canberra,” Mr Brooks said.

“We’ve spent a fortune on legal fees and are looking at the best option to take these so-and-sos to task because it was a waste of time lobbying politicians on our behalf because they didn’t have the guts to stand up. The legal breaches we looked at were constitutional, they were federal and the easiest one of all was to take it to common law and charge them with gross negligence for the way they have managed our valuable resource.”

One of the organisers of the rally, Jan Beer noted a few glaring absences from the rally, particularly the Federal Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Sussan Ley and the Federal Water Minister, David Littleproud.

Ms Beer said that many communities were being destroyed by Minister David Littleproud’s decision.

“There is all this water in the river and the mismanagement of it by Federal Government and the MDBA is so horrific that we want to get rid of this minister and we want someone who will come and listen to us,” Ms Beer said.

One of the few politicians in attendance that addressed the crowd on the day was Shepparton Independent MP, Suzanna Sheed, who said that any change has only come after the huge efforts by so many people here today.

“We’ve seen the human and economic cost that has been caused along the way. Here at the southern basin, we seem to get ignored by bureaucrats and politicians who are intent on delivering the plan in full and on time,” Ms Sheed said.

“The loss to the dairy industry in our region cannot be calculated. We now have only 1000 dairy farmers in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, 20 years ago we had 3000, with cow and milk production down approximately 40 percent each. The dairy industry is fighting to stay afloat in the face of terrible government policies that are hollowing out our communities all the time.”
Following on from the speeches, the crowd marched from the Tocumwal foreshore to the bridge crossing the Murray River. Along the way, traffic was stopped in every direction, as the crowd passionately chanted “no water, no food!”

Once the crowd arrived at the bridge, those protesting threw an effigy of David Littleproud from the bridge into the river below. The effigy featured the minister in toilet propped up on top of a pipe that read “Foodbowl to Dustbowl.”

“We’ve decided that David Littleproud is full of ‘you know what’, and he is doing nothing about the Basin Plan,” Ms Beer said.

“When we got to the middle of the bridge, we chucked him overboard. We’ve got a tracker on him and we’ll see if he actually makes it out of the Murray River’s mouth.”

Earlier that week, Mr Littleproud visited the southern basin with interim inspector-general for the basin, Mick Keetly.

In a statement, Mr Littleproud said that if the MDBP was stopped there would be no more water in any of the dams and the government would be forced to ‘go around and buy back water.’ “I respect the protesters; they are passionate and they are doing it tough and I don’t ever forget that,” Mr Littleproud said.

“When farmers are on zero water allocations, so are allocations for the environment. If we are respectful, kind and constructive with each other, we can solve most problems of this country. It’s important the impacts of drought aren’t confused for the outcomes of the Basin Plan.”