A group of protesters — many from the Deniliquin district — who wanted to talk to the nation’s Water Ministers was ejected from Canberra’s Hyatt Hotel on Friday morning, but not before they delivered their message.
‘‘We want our communities protected,’’ they emphasised, with placards and signs.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville provided some hope when she assured protest leader Shelley Scoullar before the Ministerial Council (MinCo) meeting that her government would not allow more water to be taken from food producers. She was the only minister to talk to the protesters.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud entered through an alternative entrance to the hotel, in what some considered an effort to avoid the group.
They were representing more than 300 people who attended a recent water form in Moama which overwhelming called for meetings with the Prime Minister and Water Ministers to discuss concerns around implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, in particular the adverse social and economic impacts on rural communities.
Their meeting requests have been unsuccessful, so it was decided a delegation would wait outside the Hyatt Hotel function room, where MinCo was to be held. They were ejected before the MinCo started.
Communities from the Goulburn Valley, NSW Murray Valley and Murrumbidgee were represented.
Speak Up Campaign chair and protest organiser Shelley Scoullar said they simply want guarantees from water ministers that rural communities will not be sacrificed under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
‘‘Unfortunately we have suffered massive economic loss — $500 million a year and 1,000 jobs in the Goulburn Valley, and nearly $170 million and 200 jobs in the NSW Murray. There have been numerous promises about delivering a Basin Plan that protects our rural communities, but to date they have been hollow,’’ she said.
‘‘We are concerned the recent deal announced by Water Minister David Littleproud, which includes an additional 450 gigalitres to be recovered under the plan, will create further economic pain for our people. We want guarantees from Mr Littleproud that communities will be protected — we haven’t seen them yet.’’
Mrs Scoullar added it was time for a new level of transparency around the Basin Plan.
‘‘We call on ministers to release all key documents and spend the next month on a road trip explaining to communities what they have signed them up to. There has been too much secrecy.
‘‘We also reiterate our desire to meet with water ministers, and ask them to be open and honest about the Basin Plan’s implementation, including Intergovernmental Agreements and the Memorandum of Understanding.
‘‘There is too much suffering in our rural communities and we do not believe we should be the collateral damage for this political plan which, to this point, has been more about winning key seats than protecting the environment.
‘‘We’re not sure it was necessary to eject our peaceful group from the Hyatt, nor did we need to be guarded by six officers from Australian Federal Police.
‘‘We especially appreciate the lead taken by Minister Neville, as well as efforts of Minister Niall Blair to support our communities and look forward to the opportunity to have further discussions with them, as well as with Federal Water Minister Littleproud.’’