Breakfast, but 2024 is off the menu

Visit: Water Minister Keith Pitt in Shepparton last week. Photo by Daneka Hill

Concerns over the future implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were raised with federal Water Minister Keith Pitt at a Shepparton breakfast on Wednesday morning, but there were some questions that were not answered.

Mr Pitt was a guest at a members-only breakfast hosted by Committee for Greater Shepparton.

He brought with him a $66 million grant to upgrade Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s computerised water management models.

Member for Shepparton and Goulburn-Murray Water Leadership Group joint convenor Suzanna Sheed welcomed the announcement as she believed it would give better information on river operations. Her group was planning to invite a senior basin officer to a meeting to outline how the modelling would work.

However she expressed disappointment that the Federal Government didn’t seem to have a plan on how to address expected water savings shortfalls which will come to a head in 2024.

“He was basically saying they would be trying to get as many projects up as they can, but the states are saying `we have projects up and going but we won’t be able to complete them on time’.

“He has repeated assurances they won’t use buy-backs — but they don’t have a plan to legislate so it doesn’t happen.”

Water group co-chair David McKenzie said the funding for river monitoring models was a good investment and it was pleasing to see the government wanting to make that commitment.

He was less impressed by an apparent lack of a plan to deal with the anticipated shortfall in water savings projects by 2024.

“Everyone is telling him there is going to be a shortfall, but saying that no-one knows how much, and not having a plan to deal with it, is not a reassuring response.

“We would like to see our leaders working on a plan for 2024, because everyone knows that the target is not going to be reached.”

The guests happened to include independent candidate for Nicholls Rob Priestly, who was able to attend as he is on the Committee for Greater Shepparton.

“The water minister continues to say ‘she’ll be right’, but our community is facing a looming disaster with mass water buy-backs. At breakfast today the minister refused to outline his plan, or if there is one, to deal with the huge amount of water still to be recovered under the basin plan.

“An honest conversation with our community is now urgent and long overdue. How can he stand here in this community and refuse to answer the question, ‘what are you going to do to avoid the mess that is coming?’

“Coming to this area with an announcement about more modelling is a disgrace, and does not help our farmers, dairy processors and communities who want to know what the minister is planning but refuses to reveal.”

Mr Pitt met with a number of VFF leaders in Shepparton during his visit, including VFF water council chair Andrew Leahy.