QUEENSLAND Nationals MP David Littleproud has lured independent South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon to tour his sparse Maranoa electorate to meet local farmers and look them directly in the eye to see their trembling and fear driven by the uncertainty of devastating cuts to productive water supply, caused by the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
In return, Mr Littleproud has committed to visiting the southern section of the nation’s giant food producing river system, at the Mouth of the Murray, to experience impacts on farm production and rural communities in Senator Xenophon’s political patch.
Senator Xenophon indicated to Fairfax Agricultural Media he’d accepted Mr Littleproud’s unique invitation to tour heavily impacted farm communities at St George and Dirranbandi, with only the dates and details needing to be finalised.
With an itinerary to come, the political water exchange is expected to be timed ahead of Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce tabling proposed amendments to the Basin Plan, stemming from a critical review of the northern system which mostly captures the Maranoa electorate.
It’s expected the Murray Darling Basin Authority will hand its proposed Basin Plan amendments to Mr Joyce in about May, to then be tabled in federal parliament, based on the ongoing review of the northern basin’s water recovery targets.
The Authority is currently proposing the northern Basin’s water recovery target be reduced from 390GLs to 320GLs based on governments implementing improved water management measures.
Mr Littleproud said Senator Xenophon held “a big basket of votes” in the Senate - with three NXT members - and yielded “pivotal” political influence over the survival of St George and Dirranbandi amid the Basin Plan’s ambition to take 2750 gigalitres of water away from farm production, for environmental outcomes.
He said he wanted Senator Xenophon to appreciate 35GLs that’s proposed to be “ripped out” of the Lower Balonne, and water losses in the Border Rivers catchment area, would “destroy” those farming communities.
But the loss of that 35GLs in Queensland would only deliver 3GLs with “next to nix” benefits for people in Adelaide, he said.
“If it’s about Adelaide trying to get more water to the Mouth of the Murray, will taking out 35gigs and destroying two communities up in Queensland, to maybe give at best 3GLs, which will do next to Nix, is it really worth it?” he said.
“This is one of the most important issues to the people of my electorate and I’m prepared to do whatever it is, to go to South Australia and to also make myself available to get Nick to visit Maranoa.
“I’ll move heaven and earth to make that happen and we’re at a pivotal movement to ensure we get this right, with the northern Basin review.
“For what we’re asking both communities to give up, we really need to look at it in a pragmatic sense in terms of how it’s going to be achieved.”
Mr Littleproud said Senator Xenophon toured local farming communities in Maranoa several years ago with Mr Joyce - but hadn’t returned since to see the first-hand impacts of water buybacks, caused by the Basin Plan.
He said it was important to compare and contrast the situation now to what it was then and return to see the differences, for people living and working in those communities.
“These are hardened men and I’ve seen the fear and the tears in their eyes,” he said.
“I’ve seen them shaking and trembling in fear about the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to them and the businesses they’ve created over years.
“That’s quite jolting and that’s what I want Nick to come and see and to get an appreciation of.
“Nick’s in a position, with the situation in the Senate, to actually drive change.
“If we both go into it with an open and pragmatic mind we can challenge the norm and say, ‘is it worth it for those communities and the people of Adelaide?
“This is about us both going with open and pragmatic minds and asking; what are we both actually trying to achieve?”
Senator Xenophon said he’d also taken the initiative of inviting Mr Littleproud to visit the Lower Lakes and local irrigation areas devastated by millennium drought that have still not recovered.
“I think it’s a good thing that we’re both willing to challenge our perspectives,” he said.
“We both need to understand this is one river system from top to bottom and we need to look after it.
“This shouldn’t be about state against state; it’s about good outcomes for communities and the environment.
“We won’t have viable agricultural communities unless we also have a healthy river system and that’s why I support the Plan.”
Senator Xenophon said he’d meet and sit down with Mr Littleproud’s constituents and expected the first-term Nationals MP would talk to his constituents in South Australia and work through the issues, in the same manner.
“At the very least we’ll have a better understanding but that doesn’t mean we won’t be passionate advocates for our respective states,” he said.
“I did suggest to David that we could row down the entire river system together but that may take a bit too long.
“Just two men in a tinny would be a nice experience and a great way to see the river first hand.
“It’s going to be a bit of a road trip but one that should not to be confused with the Thelma and Louise road trip.”
Senator Xenophon said on his visit to the southern system, Mr Littleproud was likely to experience changes already experienced by farming communities due to the Basin Plan’s water cuts and hear constituent views about changes that still need to occur.
He said the water exchange would also give Mr Littleproud an idea of the challenges facing the lower end of the river system, “and no doubt I’ll hear from his end all about their challenges as well”.
“I’m doing this in good faith and I’m sure he is as well,” he said.
“This is an issue that needs more light and less heat on it.
“There’s been a lot of invective and it has been a very passionate debate.
“The easy thing to do is to sledge others whereas the right thing to do is to go through all of the facts and the evidence.
“I’m sure we’ll both learn from the trip without in any way compromising our passions for our river communities.”
Mr Littleproud said based on the science and raw numbers he’d seen, removing 35GLs of productive water flows out of St George and Dirranbandi would destroy those towns.
He said while it was accepted that section of the river system was over-allocated “and we’ve taken the pain”, the question remained as to whether more water should be removed to achieve a minimal result in South Australia.
“And that’s the question we need to ask Nick Xenophon,” he said.
“If they can demonstrate with science that the 3gigs will keep the Lower Lakes going, then I’ve got an open mind but I think the people of Australia are looking for more pragmatic politics.
“We should actually put aside partisan interests and make a call that’s right for the people of Australia.
“I hope Nick will look inside his heart and see the pain of these people but this isn’t just about the farmers; it’s also about the businesses in the towns.
“We’ve got to pull away from the emotion and be pragmatic and ask, does South Australia really need to destroy these communities?”
Mr Littleproud said social and economic factors and impacts must be taken into account during the northern Basin review to achieve a triple bottom line balanced outcome alongside its environmental goals.