Farmers are disillusioned new federal water minister Keith Pitt did not find time to meet with them on his first visit to Australia’s food bowl region, says Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar and NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton.
Mr Pitt was accompanied by Deniliquin-based The Nationals Senator Perin Davey on Tuesday and Wednesday last week when he visited the Barmah Choke and saw the Murray-Murrumbidgee junction at Griffith and the Murray-Darling junction at Mildura.
Mrs Dalton said the minister made time to meet with Member for Farrer Sussan Ley in Albury, and is also reported to have met with Murrumbidgee Irrigation and regional Murray Darling Basin Authority representatives.
‘‘I’m the elected MP, but Minister Pitt didn’t even tell me he was coming to my home town of Griffith,’’ Mrs Dalton said.
‘‘That’s not surprising, as we expect the Coalition to play petty politics.
‘‘But the fact he didn’t bother to tell farmers and community members about his visit is unforgivable.
‘‘He basically went bush but stayed in his Canberra bubble.
‘‘It’s extraordinary both Minister Pitt and Senator Davey defended the NSW Government’s recent decision to allow floodplain harvesting in certain cotton growing northern New South Wales valleys, more than likely depriving downstream communities of a drink.
‘‘They’re clearly talking to the wrong people.’’
Mrs Scoullar said many community members were worried that those coordinating the visit left key advocacy groups off the list.
“It was disappointing to hear about this visit third hand,’’ she said.
Mrs Scoullar said only a week earlier Murray Regional Strategy Group, which represents local government, agriculture and local business, wrote to Senator Davey and Minister Ley seeking an opportunity to discuss water issues.
‘‘I understand that this is the first step in visiting the region, so I urge Minister Pitt to meet with the people hurting through the implementation of the Basin Plan.
‘‘He can meet fellow federal parliamentarians in Canberra, so when in the bush we ask he please bridge the gap and not ignore us like others have.’’
Mrs Dalton questioned Minister Pitt’s decision not to visit Deniliquin.
‘‘Deniliquin has been hardest hit by bad water policy. It’s the first place ministers should visit. But because it’s lost its population and therefore votes, they think they can ignore the town.”
Mrs Dalton said it’s more important than ever that ministers talk to farmers most affected, given recent media claiming drought conditions were over.
The Australian Financial Review last week reported the drought was a ‘‘distant’’ memory and a ‘‘false farming crisis’’.
‘‘This is absolute rubbish.
‘‘More than 99 per cent of New South Wales is still in drought. Ministers need to talk to the farmers and families hurt by the drought and dreadful water policy.
‘‘They need to hear the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable for them,’’ she said.