Push to give more water to farmers needs Coalition support, says Sheed

By James Bennett

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is facing calls to support a private members’ bill co-proposed by Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said Ms Ley and other Coalition members should support Mr Drum's bill that would release water onto the market for farmers.

Mr Drum is working with fellow NSW Nationals Senator Perin Davey and Member for Mallee Anne Webster to introduce the bill.

He told The News in December it would be a ‘‘very conservative’’ approach to giving water back to farmers by allowing the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to make available some of its water to irrigators.

Ms Sheed said Ms Ley had recently refused a request from Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville to release environmental water.

“Minister Neville has also called on Minister Ley to follow this sensible approach and was rebuffed,” she said.

“The federal environment minister said she was unable to comply with the request due to legislation, and yet her own colleagues are proposing to change that.

“It’s time the minister listened to them and made this private members’ bill official government policy.”

Ms Sheed said the bill would be a better solution than flooding the Barmah Choke or sending water to the Lower Lakes in South Australia, which is the current policy of the government.

“This is just wrong and the impact on our dairy industry in the Goulburn-Murray region has been devastating,” she said.

“It seems that some National Party members at least can clearly see the damage that is being done — and it is time they were listened to by their own colleagues.

“It would be very disappointing if this draft legislation were not supported by their Coalition colleagues as it would be certainly seen as a stunt by those National Party members who are in very vulnerable electorates.”

Mr Drum said he and fellow Nationals were seeking legal advice and opinion before introducing the bill to parliament.

“Essentially we need to know . . . can we push ahead?

“It might mean we need to remodel or reshape our approach.”

Federal parliament resumes in the first week of February.