Decisive action is needed

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Governments need to take immediate action to alleviate concerns about the welfare of regional people and communities.

Waiting for more reports will only cause more pain, according to the community-based Speak Up Campaign.

Spokesperson Linda Fawns was responding to comments last week from experienced agribusiness adviser Bruce Simpson, of Deniliquin, who is a member of an independent panel investigating the social and economic impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Simpson expressed concerns about governments ‘‘leaving small towns to die’’, and a ‘‘clear decline in mental wellbeing of communities’’.

‘‘The more people we hear from, the more frustrated and upset I get about how poorly the government is reacting to this crisis,’’ Mr Simpson told the Pastoral Times.

‘‘The community feels dismantled because of water reform,’’ he said.

Mrs Fawns said the time must surely have arrived for the Federal Government to immediately acknowledge the Basin Plan’s damage to regional communities, and do something to fix it.

‘‘Over the past seven years of the plan’s implementation, we’ve had governments and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in denial,’’ she said.

‘‘The MDBA refuses to appropriately acknowledge the pain being caused by the plan, which has been extremely frustrating. The Federal Government, led by Water Minister David Littleproud, marches ahead with its ‘in full and on time’ mantra, which is ludicrous. When you have a plan that is obviously failing — regardless of what the plan is about — you have to pause, reflect and reset.

‘‘It is absurd that Mr Littleproud refuses to do this. He needs to start listening to people on the ground.’’

Mrs Fawns said early comments from the panel that communities should remain positive had led to some concerns that the damage being caused by the Basin Plan would continue to be sugar-coated.

‘‘Although the messages from Mr Simpson are difficult to hear, it is refreshing that someone has the courage to come out and tell it as it is. When he said ‘there’s a sense of helplessness and the government isn’t reacting’ I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought, ‘gee, I hope Mr Littleproud is listening to what members of his panel are saying’. For the first time we have someone in a government appointed position stating openly and honestly what our communities are feeling.’’

Mrs Fawns said the greatest disappointment was that Mr Littleproud and the Coalition Government are being told over and over again the Basin Plan is failing communities, failing farmers and failing the environment. Yet they won’t listen, because making necessary changes is going to be politically tough.

‘‘Perhaps Mr Simpson’s comments will be the catalyst for the action we have been desperately waiting for. We don’t want to wait for more reports to be completed; we want decisive action and we want it now.’’