Basin plan and regional opportunities addressed in Birrell’s maiden speech

Call for investment: Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell asked for greater opportunity for people in the regions in his maiden speech to Parliament. Photo by MICK TSIKAS

The Goulburn Valley should not lose any additional water rights and there should be greater educational opportunities for young people in regional Australia, Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell said in his maiden speech to Parliament on Monday.

Addressing his parliamentary colleagues for the first time, Mr Birrell said the Murray-Darling Basin plan had already taken a significant portion of water for irrigation away from the agricultural industry, and any more would negatively impact the region.

“Though it has caused a lot of pain, we understand the need to look after the river system, and strategic and efficient use of environmental water can help us do that,” he said.

“But we are at a tipping point, and no more can be taken from communities that have already done much of the heavy lifting.”

In his speech, Mr Birrell said securing “reliable and affordable” water for the production industry in the Goulburn Murray region would support continued growth in opportunities for regional Australians.

“If we do not have productive industries, opportunity for future generations evaporates,” he said.

“I want to continue to develop our region, and regional Australia more broadly.”

Mr Birrell told Parliament he was able to represent the Nicholls electorate because he had access to regional tertiary education options, afforded by the regional industries in the area.

He told his colleagues he began his career on a fruit and cattle farm in Ardmona, before completing an agricultural science degree at Melbourne University’s Dookie campus, and then working as an agronomist.

“I am here because we need that opportunity to continue to be afforded to the people in regional Australia, the people in my electorate,” he said.

“Most importantly, the opportunity to work in agriculture and food processing in my patch comes through reliable and affordable water for irrigation.”

Mr Birrell also called for climate change action that did not jeopardise the country’s economy or its residents.

“Done in a reckless manner, with unrealistic timelines out of step with our global competitors, we could face a situation where industry moves emissions overseas. Australia’s economic strength would be reduced but global emissions would not,” he said.

“I look forward to working constructively towards a ‘just transition’ and keeping our mind open to the range of technologies that can get us there.”

Mr Birrell’s address described Nicholls as “one of the most successful examples of multiculturalism in the world” and called for sustainable investment in regional centres.

“What future are we setting up for those born in the regions now?” he said.

“We owe it to them to invest, to innovate, to work hard and smart to ensure opportunity is there for all as we adapt to a changing future.”