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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2382

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (19:40): Today was a momentous day for a group of dedicated women from my Riverina electorate who came to Canberra to voice their concerns and their fears about the water issue. Formed just last month, Women for a Living Basin spent the day meeting with parliamentarians and attending a rally on the front lawns to put their case for a triple bottom line approach in any Murray-Darling Basin decision. They did their region, their communities, their families, themselves and their cause proud.

This is not an easy time for anyone who lives in an irrigation zone. A fog of uncertainty hovers over farms, businesses, families, towns and cities. No district is feeling the pinch more than the Coleambally Irrigation Area and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area within the Riverina. As Shona Hando of Coleambally told the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, her town cannot recruit a much needed schoolteacher to fill a vacancy. She said it was hard to attract medical professionals. A bad basin plan will, she said, lead to stranded assets and stranded families. 'The plan is a knee-jerk reaction to 10 years of drought,' she told the minister.

The rivers are now full, dams are at capacity and the environment, as it always does, bounced back quickly when the rains finally came to end the prolonged dry spell. The women told the minister that cod are now being caught using cheese at Narrandera, and the birdlife at Debbie Buller's Murrami property resembles, as she put it, a 'scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie'. Informing the minister of the great environmental stewardship of farmers, Mrs Buller said that dams were built as human resources but were now being used as environmental resources. 'You cannot use people as cannon fodder in an ideological debate,' she told the minister. Helen Dalton from Yenda, who heads Women for a Living Basin, said the basin plan, in its current draft form, was soul destroying. If the sorts of environmental flows being demanded by green groups and the loony left become legislated, the people of Darlington Point, a town established on the Murrumbidgee River in the 1860s, will have to pack up and move to avoid permanent flooding.

It was pleasing that the minister gave the women a good hearing and even delayed his next appointment to listen to what they had to say. It was pleasing that the minister said he wanted to see more infrastructure to save water, both environmental and through on-farm efficiencies. It is not pleasing that the minister's department has, only today, on page 4 of Griffith's newspaper, the Area News, paid for an Australian government ad headed in large bold capitals 'Environmental water purchase'. The minister says this is a call for expressions of interest. He says this is a new, targeted initiative. But in my view this does go against what he told the 12,000 people who turned out at the last community water rally in Griffith on 15 December and what he repeated at a meeting which attracted 3,500 people at Deniliquin the very next day.

Yesterday in question time the minister was at pains to say that this was a strategic rather than a non-strategic buyback. The minister can carefully choose his words and use anything he likes, but it is a buyback by any other name. With the consultation period for the draft to end on 16 April, why is the government continuing to put offers out there for cash-strapped farmers? These farmers are not willing sellers; they are desperate sellers. I look forward, however, to the water minister taking on board what the Women for a Living Basin told him. I do appreciate the time that he spent with them. He knows, because he said so, that food production is important.

The group also met with the Leader of the Opposition for 15 minutes to discuss their concerns about the draft plan. The opposition leader agreed that the plan needs to be torn up and started again to ensure a better outcome is reached. When discussing the need for dams, the opposition leader was again in favour, but said that any new dams need to be put in the right location. That is obvious, of course. The delegation also discussed its opposition to water buybacks. The opposition leader stated that, where buybacks are possible, people are willing sellers and the buybacks are not non-strategic, and as long as the result is not stranded farmers or stranded assets, he has no problem with them. The delegation, which included my predecessor, Kay Hull, a 12-year veteran of this place, also met with the shadow minister for agriculture and food security for 30 minutes as well with Senator Barnaby Joyce, the shadow minister for water and the shadow minister for finance, deregulation and debt. I was very pleased that the members for Murray and Farrer addressed the crowd of up to 100 people on the lawn. These people had travelled for four hours and gave up their valuable work time and family time to put their points of view across. The group also met with the member for Mayo— (Time expired)