When stakeholders from across the food producing regions of southern New South Wales and northern Victoria attended ‘consultation meetings’ late last year they left with a high degree of scepticism.
The meetings were designed to provide local input for an Ernst & Young study into efficiency measures in the Murray-Darling Basin, including potential impacts of the controversial 450GL additional ‘up water’ which, under legislation, is conditional on their being no adverse social and economic effects on rural communities.
The study’s report was released on Friday and those who attended what they call “Clayton’s consultation meetings” have said their concerns have been realised.
Shelley Scoullar, who heads the NSW Murray based Speak Up campaign which supports communities impacted by the Basin Plan, attended a meeting in Deniliquin.
“When we left, everyone I spoke to had the same opinion: the consultants had a predetermined view of what they were going to report and nothing we said, nor any facts that were put on the table, were going to change that.
“In relation to the 450 ‘up water’, they were not interested in anything associated with ‘it cannot be delivered’. Their only focus was ‘how can it be delivered?’
“They were driving towards a predetermined outcome with many leading and loaded questions and were not being true to the MINCO directive of ‘can the 450GL be recovered with neutral or positive impacts?’ Instead they wanted to reshape the direction into ‘how the 450GL can be recovered with minimum impacts’.
“They did not appear interested in learning more about independent reports which are showing massive social and economic damage across southern New South Wales and northern Victoria.
“It would appear governments and the MDBA have accepted that our regions will be the collateral damage for a flawed Basin Plan that is not delivering its promised ‘triple bottom line’.
“Original predictions about the economic damage the plan would inflict on our communities have proven false, and now we’re being asked to accept the additional 450 gigalitres as a fait accompli, despite a legislative promise that it would not proceed if it created further economic damage.
“It’s all a bit hard to accept; I used to have naïve faith in the integrity of our politicians and the bureaucracy, but the more I learn about the Basin Plan and the falsehoods on which its implementation is based, the more that faith is eroded,” Mrs Scoullar said.
She added she was especially disappointed in new Water Minister David Littleproud who has endorsed the report and continues to support the additional 450GL, but hasn’t been near the northern Victorian or southern NSW regions which are feeling the full impact of the Basin Plan.
“I always thought The Nationals were supposed to be the political party that supports rural communities, but it seems I was wrong. The only logical conclusion to Mr Littleproud’s stance is that he is using his new position to step up the political ladder, and doesn’t care if he takes down a community or two along the way; even those in his political heartland.
“His comments, with what appears scant knowledge of our regions, are disheartening. In contrast, the approach taken by our local Member for Farrer Sussan Ley in her opposition to the 450GL is welcomed and we can only hope she can talk sense into Mr Littleproud.”
Mrs Scoullar said in reality the bulky Ernst & Young report provided little new analysis or insight that might help the Basin’s State Ministers make sound decisions about how to design appropriate strategies and programs to complete the Basin Plan.
“The report simply does not address one fundamental question: Can the 450GL be recovered with neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes? This was promised and is enshrined in legislation, yet remains unanswered.
“Perhaps Mr Littleproud should visit our regions and explain how he thinks it can be done,” Mrs Scoullar said.