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Burge’s frustration leads to tears in front of media

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June 16, 2017

Louise Burge (front, centre) supported by Senator David Leyonhjelm, Murray Irrigation chief executive officer Michael Renehan and West Berriquin Irrigators chair Shelley Scoullar.

The ongoing battle for a fairer Murray-Darling Basin Plan reduced Deniliquin food producer Louise Burge to tears in front of a throng of national media in Canberra on Wednesday.

Mrs Burge and other members of the Murray Group held a press conference to launch the results of stage one of a socio-economic study into the impacts of the plan on the NSW Murray Valley.

The report linked the Federal Government’s water reform policy to a drop in rice production of 30 per cent and dairy production decrease of 21 per cent in this region due to the transfer of irrigation water out of entitlements to the environment.

Mrs Burge said her emotional response was the culmination of several years of basin communities being ignored by the decision makers.

‘‘I did get upset, because of the complete failure of the government to treat people decently and for politicians to understand the true cost of this plan,’’ Mrs Burge told the Pastoral Times after the press conference.

‘‘No matter which way we step the matter is being poorly handled, and no-one is talking about how to improve the plan in a meaningful way.

‘‘We have appealed and expressed willingness to work with the relevant departments to get (the elements of the basin plan implementation) right, and yet we’re blocked at every corner.

‘‘I attended my first meeting on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in December 2009. It has been years of warnings that the implications would be proportionally higher in the Murray Valley irrigation district — not only in decisions on removal of water and all the future risk around that but also in future higher irrigation costs, external business impacts and massive risks with government decisions to change current operations of the Murray river systems and how this would also have a range of consequences including increased flooding risks.

‘‘After 20 years in areas of government policy, knowing how they work and being able to predict outcomes, it is harder for me.

‘‘I have seen it over a wide range of issues where people are just pawns in political games and now this Basin Plan where people become collateral damage — it is hard to take.’’

Murray Group — comprising Southern Riverina Irrigators, Murray Valley Private Diverters, Murray Irrigation Limited and West Corurgan Private Irrigation District — commissioned the independent report on the impacts of the Basin Plan last year.

Murray Group member and West Berriquin Irrigators chair Shelley Scoullar said the report was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday on the invitation of Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm.

Members also met with political advisors and One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts on the day.

‘‘It all goes back to November last year when NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Water Niall Blair told us he needs evidence to go in and fight for us on this,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘We employed RM Consulting Group, who had done a similar report for the Goulburn Valley, and we decided we would do the study in stages.

‘‘This first report looks just at the impact at the farm gate; it does not yet take into account the multiplier effects to communities which will come in further reports.

‘‘This was our chance to expose the issues to city-based media, and put a face to the real people who are impacted by the Basin Plan.’’

The Basin Plan recommends diverting a minimum of 2750 gigalitres of food producing water to the environment.

Early water recovery was through the purchase of water entitlements, with infrastructure efficiencies also funded to recover the rest.

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