An infuriated crowd greeted Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, and drought envoy Barnaby Joyce at a meeting to discuss the drought in northern Victoria today (Tuesday).
Irrigators, including many dairy farmers interjected and pushed the MPs to commit to a course of action to address growing concerns about the cost and availability of water, dry conditions and the increasingly unsustainable cost of farming in the region.
Although billed as a drought summit, the 80-minute event was largely about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, with calls to pause the plan continuing to grow stronger.
Northern Victoria and the southern Riverina is facing a major downturn in milk production as struggling dairy farmers continue to exit from the industry.
The crowd pushed Mr Littleproud and Mr Joyce on policy issues, calling for a review of the plan, to safeguard and reduce the amount of water taken from the region and for the Nationals to put greater pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and make the basin plan a national election issue.
The meeting, attended by about 100 people, at Mooroopna was organised by Federal Member for Murray, Damian Drum, who is based in Shepparton.
Many farmers believed the assurances during the summit came not because they were intending to fight for the region, but because of the looming federal election.
Dairy farmer Paul Mundy noted the complexity of the issues involving so many states and the Commonwealth Government.
"To quote Littleproud, it’s like herding cats,'' Mr Mundy said.
‘‘And you have to careful what you ask for.
‘‘What we have now is unpalatable, unworkable and I believe it is flawed. I don’t believe it was formed on proper science, however if this is blown up or rescinded, then our concern is: what do we end up with next time?" Mr Mundy said.
"And, although we are in dire peril now, the outcome could be far, far worse for those of us who are left. And regrettably there will be a lot of us fall by the way-side.
The challenge the minister has, is how does he implement those suggestions, with the states involved, it’s a hell of a mess that has compounded over the years.
‘‘We have to use common sense, first and foremost. South Australia are clearly the biggest stand-alone issue facing the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The amount of water flowing through to South Australia is unsustainable. This can’t continue to happen,’’ Mr Mundy said after the meeting.
‘‘They promise all good things and tell you what you want. Problem is, we’ve been telling them a consistent message and nothing’s happened,’’ Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks said.