Poll looms and water dominates our regions

Poll looms and water dominates our regions

Opinion
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"It sounded like a swansong for the National Party" was the talk after NSW Farmers' pre-election forum in Griffith.

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AS A disatisfied crowd dispersed on Tuesday night after the NSW Farmers' pre-election forum in Griffith, a comment drifted in the air near the exit: "It sounded like a swansong for the National Party."

As many as 200 people had filed into the Mirrool Room at the Griffith Ex-Services Club, most probably hoping they would hear something that might act as a balm for their blues. Then the elephant in the room knocked a table over.

Southern Riverina Irrigators vice chairman Darcy Hare put it straight to the three panellists: "The Murray has been flooding for 110 days and by doing that you've pumped 310 gigalitres of our (irrigation) allocation into the Barmah Forest.

"There is no balance in the Plan."

The irony that the river system is dry at the top and flooding in the middle, where no irrigators have been granted water allocations, was not lost on the gathering of pragmatists.

The anger, directed at South Australian irrigators, who have healthy, if not full allocations, was palpable.

Tolarno Station owner Rob McBride, Menindee, who proclaimed himself the largest landholder in NSW, said he had 70 kilometres of river frontage and the little water in it was chemically saturated and putrid. He said critical to the river's future was a "no meter, no pump" rule. As Regional Water Minister Mr Blair defended his government's performance, saying just such a rule was being "rolled out", Mr McBride suggested doing so in one year's time was too little, too late. Mr Blair, the Greens and ALP candidates accepted that the Southern Basin had done its share of the "heavy lifting" when it came water buy backs.

That the ALP is likely to win government federally, and its water planning architect Tony Burke wants the cap lifted on buy backs before the present cap has been reached will damage his party.

Southern irrigators comprised the majority of Tuesday night's audience at the forum, one of a series across the state.

But this gathering eclipsed attendance at the others, and most people there had a massive financial stake in water supplies and how they are managed.

While the Nationals' hopes in the coming election do not look rosy, it remains fact it is the only party that can be judged on performance and Mr Blair was right to point out both the Greens and the ALP voted against legislation that enshrined the "no meter, no pump" rule in law.

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