What people on the river think of the Murray-Darling revelations

What do people within the catchment actually think of the basin plan after Four Corners’ revelations?

Deputy Mayor Fiona Gaske

“I think the thing we need to remember is attached to this industry is a lot of small businesses that support irrigation and agriculture.”

This fierce water advocate is many things — a classically trained opera singer, a dance teacher, and the Deputy Mayor of Queensland’s Balonne Shire.

It is the last honour that she is well known for in her district, in irrigation circles and in the halls of Parliament House in Canberra.

Ms Gaske was horrified to hear that while her district — stretching out over 30,000-plus kilometres from Bollon in the west to St George and south to Dirranbandi — has done the hard yards in water recovery in recent years, there were those just south of the border taking hard won environmental flows.

“I think that the shepherding of environmental water across jurisdictions has been and always will be one of the challenges to the ultimate success to the plan,” she said.

“In our community, particularly in Dirranbandi, we see empty shop fronts, we see families leave, we see school numbers drop. That’s the fabric of our community. To visit a town and not see that any more, that’s devastating.”

Peter McCosker, businessman

“We’ve been made out to be the bad ones, everybody has given all their water to no avail. We’re still hounded for more.”

The owner Of Dirranbandi Ag Spares has been living and working in Dirranbandi for more than 18 years.

He says the community is on its knees as a result of water buybacks and the main street of ‘Dirran — as it’s known locally — is a far cry from its heyday.

He was part of a social media campaign earlier this year run by Cotton Australia, the National Farmers Federation and other farming groups to try to end further environmental water buybacks under the basin plan.

Mr McCosker says while the Four Corners program came across as balanced, he is worried about the wider perception of irrigators.

Although there was no mention of his district, he still feels like irrigators have been blamed as a group.

He says he has lost faith in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“It’s pretty devastating,” he said.

“Everybody’s done the right thing here, the water that’s been given back has been supposedly going downstream to help the river in the other areas, but nothing’s happened, has it? It’s all been taken, hasn’t it?”

James Moore, mixed farmer

“There are a lot of other irrigators and extractors that are all part of the one plan. It is a concern when an industry is singled out, as a cotton grower.”

For 125 years, the Moore family have planted crops and raised cattle on their property Walma near Walgett in north-west NSW.

Its current manager has been a critic of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the past and argues river health is as important to farmers as it is to anyone else.

Mr Moore thinks the majority of irrigators are compliant with the plan’s rules.

“I think the implication of the Four Corners program was very much that irrigators are doing the wrong thing. And it probably went further and targeted a section of the irrigation community.”

Mayor Darriea Turley

“[We are] absolutely outraged. We suspected it, but every time we raised it every politician would push back on us.”

At Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales, water is no esoteric debate.

They say you would be similarly concerned had you nearly run out of water twice in the last few years.

Broken Hill has not just had a shortage of water, but has blamed skin rashes and foul smelling water on ever diminishing supplies as the Menindee Lakes dried up.

A group of water advocates gathered together on Monday night to watch the Four Corners episode hoping it would shed some light on their current predicament.

What they saw left them furious, including Mayor and long time water campaigner Ms Turley.

“The thing that really is the outrage [is] that no politician wanted to stand up for Broken Hill.”

Alan Whyte, fruit grower

“There wasn’t anything there that I viewed as new.”

For this fruit grower, nothing about water meter tampering or over-pumping was a surprise.

“On the bottom half of the Darling River we’ve been conscious of those issues for some time,” Mr Whyte said.

He and around 10 other families farm on the Darling River, between Menindee and Wentworth, in NSW.

They have written to state and federal authorities asking for compensation if they give up their irrigation licenses and bulldoze their farms.

“There’s 70 families living in this area, there’s about 50 properties and about a quarter of a million sheep. They ran out of water — literally.”

Rob Houghton, cotton grower

“Well I was certainly as shocked as anyone to see that sort of negative exposure to our farmers, I’ve never seen any behaviour like that.”

Mr Houghton is a fan of technology and the latest advances in irrigation.

A third-generation grower of cotton and cereal crops at his property near Whitton in central NSW, Mr Houghton is known locally for adopting automated irrigation on his property.

He has moved quickly into the newest technology to try and save water and found the Four Corners program confronting.

But he thinks calls for a royal commission into the plan are premature.

“I’ve been part of [receiving the $13 billion] under the plan. A very small portion went to improving the technology on my farm to improve my water efficiency,” he said.

“People need to cool their jets and look at what’s actually happening to water use under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as it rolls out.”

Rene Woods, chair of MLDRIN

“Water is being sucked up and turned into profits for a cabal of wealthy agribusinesses.”

The chair of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations describes the river system as “the lifeblood” of his people.

“It’s just like our veins,” he said.

The revelations in Four Corners dismayed and angered Aboriginal communities across the basin.

Mr Woods said while they have joined in water planning in good faith, they now feel the system has been exploited, rigged and undermined to benefit an exclusive few.

“Senior public servants appear to have colluded with irrigators to assist their campaign against the Murray Darling Basin Plan.”

Daryl Hoey, dairy farmer

“This Four Corners report, in my eyes, is about making sure that everybody abides by the rules.”

Three-hundred cows roam across 140 hectares managed by Mr Hoey, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in northern Victoria.

While it is the price of milk that has been taking up his time lately, Mr Hoey is also chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Taskforce and equally concerned with water.

“The basin plan is not at risk. What allegedly a couple of irrigators are doing isn’t going to bring the basin plan into jeopardy,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if its big business exploiting taxation rules, businesses abusing 457 visas, it’s about everybody abiding by what’s in place.”

— With Edwina Farley, compiled from ABC regional and rural reporters

Originally at ABC News

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