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Barnaby’s flying visit

Touring: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce with Member for Nicholls Damian Drum at FoodShare in Mooroopna. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

Nicholls is clearly shaping into a battleground electorate for the Federal Nationals after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce flew into Shepparton to announce $600,000 for Mooroopna’s FoodShare site.

The money was a pet project of outgoing Nationals Member for Nicholls Damian Drum and means FoodShare can now move out of the Geoffrey Thompson store room it has occupied for the past nine years.

Mr Joyce had flown down from Brisbane to make the announcement in Mooroopna before travelling on to Mildura for another public relations opportunity.

The day before, Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt had been in town to announce $66 million for Murray-Darling Basin Authority modelling upgrades.

At the FoodShare funding announcement Mr Joyce and Mr Drum were hit with multiple questions about larger issues, including the impending failure to deliver 605Gl in water savings by the start of the basin plan.

Mr Drum said with an election only months away the Nationals were “incredibly motivated” to get as many 605Gl water saving projects started as possible.

“I’ve just spent the last two days with the Water Minister Keith Pitt, and he’s very, very keen on this issue,” Mr Drum said.

“We’ve got a few months left before we go into an election and the Labor party’s water policies will cripple regional Victoria, so we are incredibly scared about Labor ... effectively putting buy-backs at the very front of their water policy.”

Mr Drum said the states needed to stop “putting their hands up” and saying not enough water-saving projects would be completed, and instead focus on approving as many as they could.

“We’ve also said to the states, show us any projects which are going to create more water savings, more water effectiveness off-farm where we can make sure the diminishing pool isn’t going to diminish any further,” Mr Drum said.

After rubbing shoulders at International Dairy Week that morning, Mr Joyce was asked what the government was doing to ensure the dairy industry got the workers it needed.

“Drummie (Damian Drum) and I brought the Ag Visa out and drove it through, we are now bringing forth further changes to ensure we can get people in,” Mr Joyce said.

When asked if agricultural workers should receive free and priority access to rapid antigen tests (RATs) Mr Joyce said taxpayer money should be focused on the vulnerable.

“People say ‘free’ but there is no such thing. Taxpayers pay for it ultimately. We give it to you and we tax that person over there,” Mr Joyce said.

“I think people who can’t afford them should be supported ... but for others, I’m sorry, you’re going to have to reach into your own pocket.”

The federal election is expected to be called around March or April.