‘‘There is a willingness from those who feel screwed by the Basin Plan to work together — even if we don’t always agree.’’
That is the main feeling Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young took away with her after a visit to parts of the southern basin last week.
The tour brought the South Australian based senator to Deniliquin on Wednesday, and she continued her tour in the Murrumbidgee region.
Senator Hanson-Young said she was inspired to come to the area after learning about the class action being led by Southern Riverina Irrigators against the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
It is seeking $750 million in compensation for loss of income, claiming this has been caused by the MDBA’s poor water management.
‘‘This is not the environment versus farmers; it’s big corporations against everyone else, and it’s time for a new alliance,’’ Senator Hanson-Young said after the tour.
‘‘In Deniliquin I learned about the real impact of the big players buying up water, and more about the fact that so much public money is being spent on this plan and a lot of it is going to people who don’t actually need it.
‘‘I flew over the district and saw the vast expanse of irrigation, which was eye opening to me.
‘‘We should be prioritising family based operations to grow food. The money should be being spent to support the small players, and on more community support.
‘‘What we need is a freeze on government accounts, a proper audit and a royal commission (into the Basin Plan).
‘‘We need a total re-think on the plan, because clearly it is not working.
‘‘I am really passionate about breaking down the divide (between environment and farmer) and being prepared to work together is a new opportunity.
‘‘What I wanted to do was hear from the actual community members who are clearly frustrated they are not being heard. I heard the same thing everywhere I went — these people are talking to their elected members and governments in power, but it is not working.’’
Senator Hanson-Young admitted there are still some differing opinions between herself and her party and that of the landholders she met in Deniliquin and district — particularly relating to water buy-backs and the amount of water needed for the Lower Lakes in South Australia — but she said they have one common goal.
‘‘The goal is a living river we can all rely on,’’ she said.
‘‘In South Australia, parts of the Coorong are still very sick and we need to get it fixed soon.
‘‘I do still think water buy-backs are the most efficient and fair way to get water for the environment given the efficiency program has proven itself to be ineffective and susceptible to rorting.
‘‘We need to get the river back on a footing cheaply, leaving more water in the bucket to support the farmers still there.
‘‘In saying that, buy-backs are not on the table anymore and the Basin Plan has been a botched job for the last five years.’’
SRI chairman and Barooga farmer Chris Brooks said while there are some matters on which they did not agree, he felt there were some areas where the desires of Senator Hanson-Young and basin stakeholders aligned.
‘‘She agreed the river management is a disaster, and that the Murray Darling Basin Authority is to blame for that,’’ Mr Brooks said.
‘‘She agrees that we need to stop the money going out to so called efficiency projects until it can be assessed by the auditor-general. She also agrees with a pause on the basin plan, and a Royal Commission.
‘‘We did, however, agree to disagree on the Lower Lakes and the barrages, but maybe we can work on those next time.’’
Senator Hanson-Young is the second Federal Senator to tour the region recently, with the SRI previously hosting One Nation founder Pauline Hanson.
Still to come to the area, on SRI’s invite, are Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick and federal Labor water spokesperson Terri Butler.
Local irrigators are calling for an emergency allocation for general security licence holders to help prevent more farmers walking off the land.