Discussions about farm productivity in the NSW Murray Valley with Premier Gladys Berejiklian have been described as a ‘‘positive starting point’’.
Speak Up campaign spokesperson Shelley Scoullar was involved in a meeting with Ms Berejiklian in Deniliquin on Tuesday, along with numerous other food and fibre producing organisations from across the Murray and Murrumbidgee Valleys.
There was intense discussion about water policy, including ongoing concerns about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation and its impact on the region.
Ms Berejiklian was delivered a consistent message from those who attended — there must be no third party impacts from the proposed SDL water saving projects, and under no circumstances can the Murray Valley contribute to the additional 450GL ‘upwater’.
The Premier was also made acutely aware that poor process within the Basin Plan implementation had seen those best placed to provide expertise in water management being ignored.
In her brief message to the Premier, Mrs Scoullar said local people have ‘‘bent over backwards’’ to engage with governments to ensure productive water is delivered to farms, thus creating wealth and employment for the region and the state.
Further, the Murray Valley wants to continue making a major contribution to the NSW Government’s goal of increasing agricultural productivity by 30 per cent.
In 2014/15 gross value irrigated agriculture in NSW was $3.054 billion, of which 23 per cent was contributed by the NSW Murray.
Mrs Scoullar said the government ‘‘cannot afford to see the Murray Valley lose any more water’’. She said the Premier gave everyone a fair hearing and effectively summed up their concerns.
‘‘Ms Berejiklian promised to be ‘hands on’ in ensuring government departments listen to local communities. Although we have heard this message before and been disappointed with the outcomes, we are hoping the Premier is able to ‘walk the talk’,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.
She added policy makers do not seem to understand that people in this region who grow food are at tipping point, and are concerned any further reduction in productive water will have a flow-on impact to price.
‘‘It is getting to the point where it is becoming unaffordable to get water on farm and many producers are concerned about remaining viable, and purchasing temporary water will be unaffordable. As such, we simply cannot afford to have any more water leave the NSW Murray.’’
The Speak Up campaign also presented Ms Berejiklian with several other key messages during her visit.
It called for Coalition support to return the region’s red gum National Parks to working State Forests and asked for assurances that health services would be maintained at Deniliquin Hospital. Speak Up also raised issues of concern around policing, in particular speculation that the Local Area Command headquarters would be relocated from Deniliquin, and asked for a commitment to give the Deniliquin Ute Muster Hallmark status so it does not have to pay an estimated $100,000 a year for police services.