No more up-water to be taken from Murray Darling, candidate says

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Liberal candidate for the seat of Nicholls: Stephen Brooks. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

Liberal candidate for the seat of Nicholls, Stephen Brooks, is an orchardist and irrigator as well as a teacher.

He is likely to be using his rural credentials in his campaign to win back the seat taken by National Party member Damian Drum, at the next federal election.

One of his campaign advisers is the most recent Liberal member to hold the seat, Sharman Stone, who has a strong interest in water policy.

Mr Brooks sat down for a conversation about water with Country News writer Geoff Adams on the same day he was named as the Liberal candidate.

Stephen Brooks believes he has an understanding of water issues and wants to put that into practice if he is elected.

“We can’t have a member who spends the next six years wandering around on exploratory tours or asking for more inquiries about this issue. We have to have someone who understands this issue and can hit the ground running and can represent irrigation communities the way they deserve,” he said.

Asked about the 450 Gl of up-water and the pressure to get that water from consumptive users, Mr Brooks is adamant the regions can’t give up more consumptive water.

“So there will be no additional water taken under the 450 Gl.

“There is no scope for any water to be taken without further socio-economic damage to communities.”

And asked about the 605 Gl required to be obtained through water savings projects, and the risk they could not be achieved, Mr Brooks talked about the amount of water owned by the Environmental Water Holder, which limited what could be moved through the Barmah Choke.

“If the reason we have environmental water is to have areas watered naturally in a healthy river system, I don’t see how we could ever justify an engineering solution to push more water downstream than would naturally be able to flow in the current river.

“I know they are looking at potential engineering solutions, but that would mean just moving more environmental water downstream. How could you justify that?

“What is the objective of our environmental water holder?

“If you have to build more pipes to get more water downstream, is that achieving environmental outcomes?”

South Australian Liberals have a strong impact on Liberal Party water policy.

When quizzed about the impact of South Australian politics, Mr Brooks turns the argument to conveyance losses, pointing out that irrigators are paying for conveyance losses generated by environmental water uses.

“We don’t need to have a war between the states to achieve the end-of-system solutions that South Australians seek and balanced water security for our Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.

“We need to ensure we minimise conveyance losses and ensure that if the Environmental Water Holder is the cause of spilling that water, it is deducted from their account, not taken from the irrigation pool.

“The Act needs to be more about environmental outcomes and less about volumes of water, because the Act is actually written and the object of the act is to achieve economical, social and environmental outcomes.

“Nobody would suggest those interests have been balanced equally, so it is totally reasonable for south Australians to want to have a healthy river system but it is also entirely understandable that Goulburn Murray irrigators should rightfully expect water allocations and the proper management of their water resources, because if it is mismanaged and there is increasing conveyancing losses, they are paying the bill, and it’s something that should be looked at either through the MDBA or through how we measure those environmental objectives.”

Mr Brooks wants to see improvement in transparency of water market trading.

“If I were trading stocks (shares) in the same ways water is traded, it would be illegal. It’s the Wild West. You can’t trade the same way with any other property rights.”

He said he would be taking up the issue with the Liberal Party treasurer.

Mr Brooks’ father, Chris Brooks, is chair of Riverina lobby group Southern Riverina Irrigators, and Stephen was asked how he would handle potential influence or conflicts from family.

He said his father was an unpaid water advocate for his community.

“He and all the Victorian irrigators, the different groups have — through their own efforts — lifted the issue of water policy to one of national importance. And I am very proud of that.

“I am not anybody’s mouthpiece, but I genuinely believe that if we want to achieve the outcomes that we seek, it needs to be done from within the government from someone who understands the issues at a local level and who understands the requirement of the whole system, the legislation and how the bureaucracy operates.”

He said the issues advocated by people, including his father, transcended one family and were being pursued by a range of irrigation groups working for their communities.

“This is not one family’s fight,” Mr Brooks said.

“The single biggest thing I have learned from my family is your service to community.”

Mr Brooks owns and operates a six-hectare 6000-tree pomegranate orchard based in Barooga with his personal partner and business partner Antonio Zardo.