Hunt, Joyce given important portfoliosBy Zoe McMaugh
Two Coalition politicians sympathetic to the region hold the two most important roles for the Riverina.
At 3pm yesterday it was formally announced Barnaby Joyce would be Minister for Agriculture.
The water portfolio will be a branch under the environment portfolio held by Minister for Environment Greg Hunt.
As Parliamentary Secretary to Mr Hunt, Senator Simon Birmingham will be responsible for water and will report to Mr Hunt.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Denis Tinkler said he could see both positives and negatives with both announcements.
While pleased Mr Hunt would be broadly responsible for water, he was concerned a South Australian has been placed in charge of water.
‘‘Coming under Greg Hunt is the positive side of it, but there are some negatives,’’ he said.
‘‘The last time we had a South Australian in charge of water, it was Penny Wong (who introduced Sustainable Diversion Limits and started the Murray-Darling Basin Plan process).
‘‘Let’s hope Simon is a step up. I do believe he will make all the right noises though.’’
Mr Tinkler said Mr Hunt won the hearts and admiration of Deniliquin and southern Riverina irrigator stakeholders when he visited Deniliquin in early August.
He said Mr Hunt’s willingness to listen, learn and help regional areas was a trait he was looking forward to seeing in action.
The link between water and the environment, however, is ‘‘disappointing’’ for Mr Tinkler.
‘‘It’s disappointing to go to the polls with one expectation (that water would be linked with the agriculture portfolio) and then nine days later reality sinks in.’’
While the local region was pinning its hopes on Mr Joyce being water minister, as predicted by Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, his appointment to the agriculture portfolio was still welcomed.
Murray Valley Community Action Group chair Lester Wheatley said despite missing out on the water portfolio, Mr Joyce was not expected to be separated from it completely.
As agriculture minister, Mr Wheatley said he will still be heavily involved in water debate.
Mr Wheatley said Mr Joyce’s appointment as Agriculture Minister would have far reaching benefits for the Riverina and other rural areas.
‘‘I think he will be positive for our region,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s got a reasonable understanding of irrigated agriculture and its importance to the viability of our towns.
‘‘He’s not driven by the same ideology as the former government, and won’t be beholden to the Greens.
‘‘We have always said we need a broad change, and this could be it. The fact Mr Joyce has been here several times also works in favour.’’
Mr Wheatley said through his visits, Mr Joyce had forged a relationship with the local community.
He said Mr Joyce’s positive connections with key industry leaders could also be a benefit locally.
A press release issued by Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott yesterday stated Mr Joyce would be ‘‘working to fulfil Australia’s potential as the foodbowl of Asia. The agricultural opportunities for northern Australia in particular are immense.’’
Local Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has also been included in the Coalition cabinet, but not as a front bencher.
She has been appointed Chris Pyne’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, which will allow her to continue her work on child care and early childhood education.
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