Massive job losses in the Deniliquin district should ring alarm bells in government circles.
But do they? Does anyone really care?
And importantly, is anyone in Government prepared to listen to why jobs have been lost and do something to restore them?
These pertinent questions are being asked by the Speak Up campaign following startling revelations that more than 1,000 jobs were lost over a 10 year period in Deniliquin from 2001 to 2011.
Speak Up says anecdotal evidence suggests there was an improvement in job prospects for several years from 2012, but employment numbers fell again in the past year, including the loss of about 50 positions from SunRice, most of these at the Deniliquin rice mill.
The rice mill job losses, like most others, are a direct result of insufficient and affordable water being available for the region’s food producers.
Speak Up spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said the cause of job losses was “as plain as the nose on your face”.
“We acknowledge that 2015 was a dry year which exacerbated our government-induced drought.
“Farmers can accept the challenges that nature throws at us, but won’t accept being belted by Government policy at the same time.
“We cannot change the weather but we can change flawed policy,” Mrs Scoullar said.
But she laments that food producers cannot even get an opportunity to show the state and nation’s agricultural leaders the issues that are being faced, or that sound localised solutions exist to problems that policy has created.
This is why Speak Up has written to federal Agriculture and Water Minister Barnaby Joyce and state Agriculture and Water Minister Niall Blair, imploring them to visit this region.
“Local farm advocacy groups have tried to get Mr Joyce and Mr Blair to our region to discuss our concerns and solutions, but it seems they are too busy.
“This week Speak Up has written to the Ministers, requesting that they urgently come to the region.
“We don’t want to be ignored any longer, the region wants to work with government to discuss positive solutions,” Mrs Scoullar said.
She added that federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and state Member for Murray Adrian Piccoli had both tried to persuade the state and federal Ministers to visit the region.
“The fact is that Minister Blair has not visited the region in well over 12months and Mr Joyce has not visited since taking over the Agriculture and Water portfolios. A lot can happen in that time, our community has been working hard to find solutions to allow the region to thrive.”
Mrs Scoullar said implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been an unmitigated disaster for rural communities, but Governments remain in denial.
Recent figures from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority tell the sad story that 30 percent of agriculture jobs in the Northern Basin have been lost under the Basin Plan.
“There has been far more productive water removed from the Southern Basin than our northern colleagues, so it’s not surprising that we have not had a similar study in this region,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.
“We know it would tell the true tale of the plan’s damage, which is not something the MDBA or Governments want people to know.
“Around 1640 gigalitres has been returned to the environment from productive use in the Southern Basin which, based on the farm price for medium grain rice in 2015 could produce around 1.5 million tonnes of rice worth $620 million.
“That’s over half a billion dollars a year that is lost to our local, state and national economies.
“And the greatest tragedy is that its all so unnecessary.
“What a shame that our political representatives who spend so much time telling everyone about the budgetary issues we are facing, have not been able to take a day or two out of their schedules to look at effective, localised solutions.
“Many people thought with National Party representatives heading up our agriculture portfolios we would at least have politicians prepared to consult and listen to rural communities, but we are starting to wonder whether or not this is the case.
“Hopefully Mr Joyce and Mr Blair will prove us wrong and be here talking with us in the very near future,” Mrs Scoullar said.