Mr John Lolicato: Lock the Gate !
A large contingent of landholders from the central Murray Valley in southern New South Wales have joined forces and vowed to ‘lock the gate’ on bureaucrats seeking access to their land. They claim they have “had a gutful” of failed consultation and have taken the extreme measure until they are guaranteed “meaningful and productive discussions that will deal with our issues and concerns”. Spokesman John Lolicato said the call to ‘lock the gate’ had met with overwhelming support from landholders.
The move comes as frustration over implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan reaches fever point across food producing communities in New South Wales and Victoria. The ‘lock the gate’ campaign will cover a large area between the Edward and Murray Rivers, including the Wakool and Niemur Rivers and the Merran, Yallakool and Colligen Creeks, plus all the associated anabranches and flood runners in between them.
Representative landholder groups across this region have joined forces to support the campaign. Their primary concern revolves around the Basin Plan’s Constraints Management Strategy (CMS). Landholders have continually tried to explain to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and more recently the NSW Government’s Department of Primary Industries Water (DPIW) representatives that the volumes of water proposed under the Basin Plan simply will not fit down the system without significant third party impacts.
Originally the Constraints Management Strategy was the responsibility of MDBA, but last year it was handed to DPIW. Since then there has been limited dialogue with landholder groups, even though the NSW Government is preparing to put together business cases on costings for works required under the CMS.
Mr Lolicato said he believed some business case work was undertaken by the MDBA but it had not been made available for landholder comment or assessment. “We have continually tried to tell government departments and agencies that recommended flows under the Basin Plan will not fit down the system, and effected landholders are sick and tired of repeating the same issues and concerns over and over to the many different agencies and the ‘revolving door’ of employees who venture into the country to ‘consult’. Now we have government agencies trying to by-pass recognized representative groups and go straight to individual landholders without any agreed protocols or actions to protect landholder rights. It is another divide and conquer approach by people who are trying to implement a flawed Basin Plan, and it’s one we will not accept,” Mr Lolicato said.
Mr Lolicato added there were stark similarities between the Basin Plan as a whole, and the CMS. “Both are being driven by political imperatives and goals that completely ignore the logic, facts and consequences of each situation. There is a culture which has been embedded into the MDBA that if you repeat the same thing over and over you will win the argument, even if your facts are wrong and won’t change. The MDBA has also mastered techniques used to divide and conquer our communities and it is now obvious that some other government agencies are prepared to follow in the MDBA’s footsteps to achieve their own political deadlines and goals.” He also said the Basin Plan’s time deadlines, as well as the required end of system flows, are unrealistic and unachievable without massive third party impacts.
The Federal Government has allocated $200 million for the CMS for the entire basin from Queensland to South Australia over a 10 year period, yet a revised report published last week suggested $140 million would be needed along the Goulburn River alone, which is triple what the original assessment came up with. The initial assessment for the Yarrawonga to Wakool Junction section well exceeded $200 million by itself, even though affected landholders pointed out that the consultants doing the work had not even scratched the surface with the amount of compensation that would be required. Mr Lolicato said “It has become obvious that the bureaucracy does not understand the extent of third party impacts, nor have the departments and authorities involved been prepared to genuinely listen and take notice of landholders who have a thorough understanding of their land and the waters that run through it. Now, various State Government departments have indicated they want to develop an inventory of in-stream infrastructure to match the opportunity to upgrade stream-crossings with funding potential to achieve higher flow levels. Until we get a very clear picture of what is required and who is going to pay for it, with meaningful and productive discussions to deal with our issues and concerns, there will be very little property access to compile this inventory. It is disappointing that we have to get to this point, because landholders understand the need for an effective Basin Plan with everyone working together to maximise limited water resources for both food production and the environment. However, it has become glaringly obvious that the MDBA and State Government agencies are not yet interested in genuine consultation so they have left us with no choice.”