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Answers needed, says Berrigan Mayor

Berrigan Mayor, Bernard Curtin calls for more from the Coalition on the impending Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

November 7, 2012 4:17am

Berrigan Shire Council Mayor Bernard Curtin said he was ‘‘disappointed’’ there had not been a stronger voice on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan from the Federal Opposition.

He is among a large number of Murray-Darling Basin Plan stakeholders who say it is time for the Federal Coalition to make a stand on the basin plan.

The outcry for Opposition support follows Prime Minster Julia Gillard’s shock announcement in South Australia on Friday that the Federal Government would take 3200 gigalitres (GL) of productive water from the basin’s food producers.

Predictions are that the plan — which originally called for 2750GL to be returned to the environment — could be tabled in Parliament this month.

Stakeholders are still waiting for Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and other Coalition members to reveal how they will tackle the plan, which many believe will cripple the economy of basin towns reliant on the food producing industry, such as those towns in the southern Riverina.

Ms Ley told the Southern Riverina News she could not make a commitment on a plan she had not seen.

Cr Curtin said he found the silence from the Opposition deafening.

‘‘I’m still waiting to hear what the policy of the Opposition will be,’’ Cr Curtin said.

‘‘I wonder what the real thoughts of the politicians are and wonder if they really have any interest in this.

‘‘Surely the plans are available for them to see if fellows like Barnaby Joyce are always speaking on it.

‘‘The people of this region have been let down and the psychological effect it’s having is not fair.’’

Cr Curtin used last week’s Berrigan Shire Bulletin board to air his concerns of the impending plan.

‘‘It is alarming to hear that the Federal Government is proposing to introduce its Murray-Darling Basin Plan legislation to parliament based on the 3,200 gigalitre ‘no constraints’ model.

‘‘Not only is this a new concept that has never been discussed with the community but it is highly likely to have significant long term impacts on water users and the tourism industry.

‘‘It is likely that the Murray River and some private property in our area will be inaccessible for extended periods of time due to extended periods of flooding and the required drying periods before access can be achieved.

‘‘It is also alarming that this proposal is likely to be supported by the opposition so that it doesn’t become an issue for the election next year.

‘‘This model represents the worst possible scenario for our community because it will have significant impact on the areas two strongest economic drivers agriculture and tourism.’’

Murray Group of Concerned Communities chair Bruce Simpson said it was time for the Coalition to be more vocal.

‘‘I know they are doing a lot of work behind the scenes, and their influence on changes to the Water Act shows that.

‘‘But I think the time has come where they need to be explicit in their position (on the plan itself).

‘‘The Coalition will play an important role in the outcome of the basin plan and it is time for them to be public about what their stand is.

‘‘And what we really need them to do is hold the government accountable to good public policy.’’

For the first time in the basin plan process, four regional Coalition members — Ms Ley, Member for Riverina Michael McCormick, Member for Murray Sharman Stone and Member for Mallee John Forrest — have issued a joint press release in response to the plan.

‘‘I haven’t seen the plan, and I want to see what it says (before formulating a way forward),’’ Ms Ley said.

‘‘For now we are all at the table and working cooperatively, which is what my constituents have asked for.’’

Ms Ley said there was speculation the basin plan would be tabled in Parliament last week, but that did not happen.

Ms Ley has since announced she will be holding briefing sessions on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Deniliquin tomorrow and on November 15. For more information about the sessions, please phone 1300303203 (toll free).

More basin plan updates on page 14.

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