‘‘If the Murray Darling Basin Plan continues the way it is, we (basin communities) have only got five years left.’’
That is the message Murray Valley Private Diverters chair John Lolicato impressed on those attending the Pause the Plan meeting at the Deniliquin RSL Club on Thursday night.
He was joined by Wakool Landholders chair Darcy Hare to speak on the message, with support from the West Berriquin and Denimein landholder associations. The meeting ended with an almost unanimous vote to call for the plan to be paused.
Not one person in the room voted to continue with the Basin Plan as it stands today.
‘‘After six years of continuing implementation of the Basin Plan our regional communities are past breaking point,’’ Mr Hare said.
‘‘Peak advocacy groups and politicians have let our regional communities down badly – especially the NSW Murray and Goulbourn regions.’’
Mr Lolicato conceded a plan is needed to protect the future of the Murray-Darling but said, as he has said from day the draft plan was introduced, it needs to be done in the right way.
Arguing the ‘‘right way’’ has been ignored for the last six years, which has had a negative impact on basin communities, he said a pause is the only way to get the policy back on track and working the way it should.
‘‘They (governments) have to start to acknowledge we have to change direction,’’ Mr Lolicato said.
‘‘The current plan is not working. It is failing the environment and failing regional Australia.
‘‘This (pause) will give our water reform fatigued communities some breathing space.
‘‘It will allow the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder the time to prove the benefits that can be gained with what is already in their bucket (2100 gigalitres) before they acquire any more productive water.
‘‘It will remove the artificial water market that exists currently with government splashing around the extra billions of dollars still available under the Basin Plan.
‘‘This interim period should be used by river managers to confirm exactly what volumes of water can be delivered downstream and the associated management regimes required.’’
With the Pause the Plan motion now supported by stakeholders attending meetings at Deniliquin and Barham, the campaign members say the next stage must include calling for all basin state and the federal governments to immediately implement a framework that will ensure no further water acquisition for a period of at least five years.
The campaign also calls for a comprehensive review of the plan and river management by independent consultants selected by the affected communities, with terms of reference also drawn up by the affected landholders and communities in conjunction with state water ministers.
Lastly, it demands that the plan should not resume until the review is completed and agreed upon by basin communities and government.
‘‘We have given it (the existing Basin Plan) a really good go and we’ve tried to work with it, but it’s just too damaging,’’ Mr Lolicato said.
‘‘We’ve tried hard to be part of the Basin Plan, but we just don’t fit in with their vision.
‘‘It is a freight train out of control, and no-one is dealing with it.’’
The campaigners will continue to spread their message throughout the basin, and also intend to take it to the cities to garner support.
They have not ruled out resorting to blockades, rallies and even civil disobedience should this message be ignored.