Decisions made in the next week could make or break some of Australia’s rural communities.
Despite the enormity of these decisions, communities at risk are concerned Government Ministers will not be fully informed.
The mayors of four local government areas in the region have joined forces to call for absolute transparency, especially from Commonwealth Water Minister David Littleproud.
Mr Littleproud will sit around the table in Melbourne next Friday, December 14 with state water ministers and Murray-Darling Basin Authority bureaucrats and representatives to discuss additional water recovery under the Basin Plan.
There is a legislated commitment that none of this water will be recovered if it could lead to adverse impacts on affected communities.
Mayors who want this promise upheld are Cr Norm Brennan (Edward River Council), Cr Chris Bilkey (Murray River Council), Cr Matt Hannan (Berrigan Shire Council) and Cr Ruth McRae (Murrumbidgee Shire Council).
They said they still have serious concerns that despite unequivocal evidence that recovering more water without further job losses and economic pain is simply not possible, Mr Littleproud continues to support this water recovery.
They are also worried about transparency around information that will be provided to Water Ministers, considering it has been sadly lacking throughout the Basin Plan process.
‘‘Getting the decisions right at next week’s meeting of water ministers is vital to our communities. It’s make or break for many of us,” the mayors said.
They are concerned that water ministers will not be well armed with the views of basin communities, because in the past information from so-called consultation sessions has been ‘‘cherry-picked to suit the agenda’’.
‘‘We believe a report on community consultation from Sefton and Associates will be presented to Ministers this week. Our communities need to see a copy of this report to ensure it accurately encapsulates the messages we delivered,’’ the four mayors said.
‘‘We’ve been caught out too many times through the Basin Plan’s implementation ... we express concerns about its impact but these are ignored or sugar-coated.
‘‘That cannot be allowed to happen on this occasion because there is too much at stake. We don’t think being given the opportunity to view a report that is so critical to our future is too much to ask.
‘‘Our communities have totally lost confidence in the ability of the MDBA, including its CEO Phillip Glyde and chairman Neil Andrew to be open and transparent, or to accurately reflect what we say. Nor do we have faith in the Commonwealth Department of Water which appears to be pursuing an agenda with no regard for rural communities and our people.
‘‘At such an important time it is therefore imperative that the Sefton report is released before the meeting of ministers, so we can be confident our loud and clear messages of concern have been portrayed.
‘‘Minister Littleproud stated this consultation process and report would strongly influence decisions around the neutrality test, and how they determine a ‘negative impact’. This is our future, so surely we’re entitled to know what it is based on.’’