Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack says the federal government will respond to the fish kills events in the Lower Darling River before the federal election, which is due by May 18.
Mr McCormack met with angry locals in Far West NSW at Menindee today accompanied by Parkes MP Mark Coulton.
It was the Nats Leader’s first visit since the three mass fish death events that began in December and since killed hundreds of thousands of native fish.
“The fact that Mark and I have come here in good faith shows the federal government cares. We do very much care and we want very much to work in conjunction with our NSW colleagues,” Mr McCormack said.
“We will act before the election… Elections aside, this is important. We're the government and are doing something about it.”
Residents in Menindee and Broken Hill argue that the fish kills were exacerbated by a failure of government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority to properly implement the the Basin Plan.
The plan to recover water from irrigation and restore the Murray Darling river system to good health has been rolled out since 2012.
Many of its critics from Far West NSW argue irrigators upstream on the Barwon River have been given a soft ride at the expense of the environment, and that river operators have drained too much water from the Darling River leaving native fish high and dry.
Amid the public outcry, Water Minister David Littleproud commissioned a panel of scientists to examine fish kill. It will report initial findings to the Minister by February 20 and release the inquiries report will be published by March 31.
Mr McCormack said all recommendations from the inquiry would be considered, including a federal Royal Commission.
“We will take on board those recommendations. If that (a federal Royal Commission) is recommended, certainly the Government will examine it closely. I don't want to pre-empt anything that the chair's investigations go into,” he said.
A representative of the Riverina electorate, a powerhouse region for the irrigation industry, Mr McCormack has previously questioned elements of the Basin Plan.
In 2012 he voted against the Coalition to oppose the Basin Plan’s enabling legislation.
In September last Mr McCormack said he would consider new laws to enable water to be diverted from the environment to irrigators, to aid farmers struggling to finish crops during severe drought.
“In these areas of national emergency you have to look at these things,” Mr McCormack said at that time.
Today he said it was a “dire situation” in the Darling River which the government would work to resolve.
“It will be solved through better water sharing access and we appreciate that,” Mr McCormack said.
“That is why the Federal Government has asked to have a chair of an independent panel which will look at the fish kill.”
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