Meet with us, Burke

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

The Murray Regional Strategy Group (MRSG) is going to reach out to Labor’s federal water spokesman Tony Burke to discuss the water crisis unfolding in the NSW Murray.

Its chairman Alan Mathers said the community-based group wants to work with the Labor Party and was concerned with comments made recently by Mr Burke, who indicated if Labor wins the federal election it will abolish the cap on water buybacks and scrap the neutrality test which state water ministers introduced in December to protect rural communities.

Mr Mathers said the comments send a negative message about the future prospects for the next generation of young farmers, who want to hear Labor’s vision for the region.

He said he had a positive meeting last week with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at which issues around unintended consequences of the Basin Plan were discussed.

“Mr Morrison now has a much better appreciation of the damage to our communities from the Basin Plan, and seemed impressed by the solutions we presented to him. It seems reasonable that we now try to convey these solutions to Labor leaders.

“The recent comments from Mr Burke indicate he may also not be aware of what is happening in this region.”

Mr Mathers said MRSG wants to work with Mr Burke, a key Labor politician, to ensure he knows about the environmental degradation, the job losses, the mental health issues, and the unnecessary impact on our communities.

“I am sure if he engages with our community he would see things in a different light,” Mr Mathers said.

He said water is a very complex issue and we should not automatically expect our politicians to have intimate knowledge about our part of the system.

“Hopefully, on behalf of MRSG, I will get an opportunity to discuss our concerns with Mr Burke. Local people who have lived and breathed the system for generations are best placed to help deliver positive environmental outcomes, and hopefully Mr Burke will understand this.”

Mr Mathers said the issues being faced go beyond challenges around the social fabric and economic prosperity of our communities, as there are now huge concerns about the environment, and the damage being caused by the Basin Plan.

“Those of us living in the region can see the destruction of the most precious environment in the world due to increased volumes of water being forced down the Murray River, beyond its capacity.

“We have river bank slumping and erosion, the Barmah Choke is collapsing and the mighty red gum forests are under extreme pressure from over-watering. And we also keep creating ideal breeding conditions for those ‘rabbits of the river’, the European carp.

“Unfortunately, coupled with the environmental deterioration we have a bureaucracy that is reluctant to acknowledge the adverse impacts of the Basin Plan, seemingly because it sees itself as being primarily obligated to deliver water, and not responsible for the damage being caused along the way.

“We would like Mr Burke to be better briefed on the river health problems of the mid-Murray system; if he has a better understanding he will be more likely to take remedial action,” Mr Mathers said.

He added that from MRSG’s perspective, it wants to work with whoever is in government to achieve better environmental outcomes not only for this region, but for the entire Basin.

The MRSG is a community-based organisation representing local government, community, business and farming groups in the Central Murray region of NSW. Mr Mathers said the members are practical people who live and work in the region.