Critical focus

By Zoe McMaugh

An amendment to the Murray Darling Basin Plan which allows it to be paused in times of critical need must be implemented, according to NSW Shadow Minister for Water Clayton Barr.

On his first visit to the district this week, since being handed the portfolio in June, Mr Barr said he has been ‘‘struck’’ by the tales of pressure and hardship being experienced in the region as a result of water policy — both federal and state.

He said one potential solution he intends to champion is to have the critical needs amendment rule tested, and put in place to assist hurting communities.

‘‘I would think these desperate times — when people are sadly ending their lives, communities are going to the wall and businesses are dropping off and we’re losing millions of litres of dairy; I would think they are reasonable grounds on which to test the critical human needs rule,’’ Mr Barr said.

‘‘This critical human need was introduced as a justifiable reason to change or alter the commitment to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘For communities like those along the Murray, I would think helping businesses to stay afloat, helping communities to stay alive because jobs remain and money stays in the economy and preventing people from committing suicide are the types of critical need that need to be tested.

‘‘Someone has to test that rule and no-one has explained to me why we have not tested that yet.

‘‘If these conditions are not grounds on which to test, what will be?’’

Mr Barr said he also intends to keep pressure on the NSW Coalition Government to support a Royal Commission into the Basin Plan.

‘‘At the 2019 state election, Labor went to that election saying if we were elected we wanted a miniature Royal Commission or a Commission of Inquiry within the New South Wales boundary to understand the dynamics of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘During the campaign, when Deputy Premier John Barilaro went to Menindee and Broken Hill, he told the community he thought a Federal Royal Commission was a good idea.

‘‘We (Labor) saw this as an obvious extension of the position we already had, and thought ‘this is great; let’s do it on a bi-partisan level — the Coalition and the opposition, let’s all call for a Royal Commission’.

‘‘Unfortunately after the election, Barilaro shifted his position and no longer thought a Royal Commission was the right thing to do.

‘‘Labor still believes there needs to be a Commission of Inquiry or Royal Commission, or something with the power to investigate.

‘‘We believe in and have committed to that, and we will spend the next three years calling on the government to support that position.

‘‘We have to reach across the borders to understand the full impacts of the Basin Plan.’’

During his visit to the region, Mr Barr met with dairy farmer and Speak Up Campaign deputy chair Lachlan Marshall at his Blighty farm, was shown parts of the Murray River system on a barge cruise with members of the Murray Regional Strategy Group and was given an aerial insight of the system by Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks.

Anyone requiring crisis support can contact NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511, Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.