This is the first in a Rooted series from different interested parties — farmers, lobby groups, environmentalists, etc — discussing their reactions to the guide of the draft Murray-Darling Basin plan and the community consultations surrounding it, called Murray Murmurings.

Shepparton farmer David Furphy writes:

It’s not surprising that farmers, business people and community members are scared and angry about the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s plan. Water is everything in these communities.

Along with about 600 others, I queued to get into a function room at a Shepparton pub to hear what the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) had to say about the 260-page “guide to the plan”. The mood was tense but social. There’s been many public meetings relating to irrigation in recent years. The crowd was a decent size, but not fiery like recent protests about the Plug the Pipe or later meetings at Deniliquin and Griffith.

The first to the microphone were local pollies and industry spokesmen, then over the next two hours the questions and the crowd responses got more vocal and emotional. Looking back, I don’t think there was a single person questioning the need for restoring the health of our river systems. There were some questions about whether the several hundred GL transferred to the environment in recent years are counted towards the 3000 GL (Answer: no, that’s history) and another about what the environmental objectives were (Answer: maintain current/recent ecological conditions, not pre-20th century levels).

All the others related to social and economic impacts on farmers, businesses and communities. Everyone knew, and let the presenters know they knew, the 800 job loss figure was a nonsense and an insult (including, it turns out, MDBA chair Mike Taylor). The most vocal scoffing was for Mary from the Department of Water, when she claimed they take responsibility for all the appropriate costs when they buy water from willing sellers on the open market.

Also upsetting and prompting heckling from the the crowd was the frequent blame shifting and ducking of responsibility. Taylor often claimed issues were outside the scope of the plan or the responsibility of some other organisation or government. If there’s one thing that rankles farmers and other business people, it’s arse-covering when a bit of courage and straight talking is needed.

But it’s not just the scale of the cuts that upset people (though that is certainly shocking), it’s the shock of how they’ve been presented. It’s the apparent lack of understanding and concern shown for what it will do to families, business and communities. A comment from one of the thousands of people at Griffith this morning sums it up.  “It’s taken us 100 years to build this district and you give us 16 weeks for consultation, it’s a disgrace.”

Read the rest of this article and comment over at the Rooted blog.

Peter Fray

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