Ley, Trewin at loggerheads over key water policies.By Zoe McMaugh
Many months of political positioning will end when Australians head to the polls this Saturday, and locally it has been the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that has formed the federal election campaign platform for two prominent Farrer candidates.
With the Coalition tipped to take power, the Liberal Party’s Sussan Ley, who has held the Farrer seat since 2001, has this week promised voters that she will make the Murray-Darling Basin Plan her number one priority if re-elected.
The Basin Plan pledge is seen as a move to shore up votes in the Deniliquin and Wakool/Barham areas where Katter’s Australian Party candidate Ken Trewin is believed to be gaining some traction with his hardline stance on the plan.
Mr Trewin, a former Wakool Shire mayor, has committed his party to tearing up the Basin Plan — which recommends removing a minimum of 2750 gigalitres of water from food production — should the KAP garner enough power to do so.
Stakeholders have long argued the plan is too heavily weighted toward the environment and does not adequately address socio-economic impacts on removing the water or the third party flooding impacts caused by environmental watering.
Ms Ley and the Coalition want the basin plan focus shifted to securing water for the environment through funding on-farm efficiencies rather than water buy-backs.
There would be greater consultation with irrigators, which Ms Ley said was still lacking from the Labor Government.
However, Mr Trewin says efficiencies are not enough to ease the burden on food production.
He has called for the Water Act 2007, developed by the Coalition and used by Labor to form the basis of the Basin Plan, to be scrapped and re-written.
‘‘It was Coalition Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull who wrote the Water Act 2007, putting the environment ahead of people and food security,’’ Mr Trewin said.
‘‘There’s no talk of re-writing the Water Act from Sussan Ley or her counterparts, just spin about how they can make the Murray-Darling Basin Plan more irrigator friendly.
‘‘Without changing the Water Act, they can’t achieve this and they know it.’’
Ms Ley has this week questioned Mr Trewin and the Katter Party’s commitment to changing the Basin Plan.
The Member for Farrer used a letter from a Conargo constituent who Ms Ley said raised a concern the KAP had preferenced The Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young ahead of other Independent and Liberal Party Senate candidates in South Australia.
‘‘Ken Trewin is asking you to vote to save our region, yet the party he represents could now be responsible for killing it off,’’ Ms Ley said.
‘‘The Coalition has a plan to balance the Basin Plan and I’ve put The Greens last on my how-to-vote card to help us achieve that.’’
Mr Trewin, however, scoffed at Ms Ley’s claims.
‘‘On my how-to-vote card for the House of Representatives, I put The Greens where they belong, last,’’ he said.
‘‘On the South Australian Senate ticket, in a field of 73 candidates, KAP has put Hanson-Young at number 66. The Liberal Party has put her at number 67.
‘‘That’s one placing lower – hardly a massive difference there. KAP in South Australia put two Liberal candidates ahead of Hanson-Young.’’
Chair of the now dormant Murray Group of Concerned Communities, formed to fight the Basin Plan being passed in Parliament, Bruce Simpson said both parties’ policies needed to be approached with caution.
Mr Simpson particularly raised concerns with the KAP’s plan, saying a new Basin Plan could be even more disastrous.
‘‘If it was to become a reality, we would have to be very careful about how the new Water Act is written.
‘‘I can understand the sentiment, and taking a broad view it is commendable, but trying to dismantle the Act when it has taken a long, long time to put it together would pose a lot of risk.
‘‘But we will do whatever it takes to retain productive water in our communities — water which supports our communities and creates employment.’’
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