The management and use of water is extremely topical in regional areas, and never more so than when we face a new El Nino weather event likely to bring with it drought and low water allocations.
Inevitably, these circumstances raise concerns with the still unfinished implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
I, along with the Victorian and NSW state governments, have been calling for an extension to the deadlines for the Basin Plan for some time.
The government has now introduced the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 to deliver on this call.
But, the amendment also calls on the removal of a cap on buybacks and certain social and economic protections built into the original plan.
As a result, the Senate has set up an inquiry to look into this bill and take community submissions, which close on September 29.
The committee will also hold two public hearings on the matter. However, the decision has been made to hold these hearings in Canberra, rather than in basin town.
Conducting discussions in the isolation of Canberra shows a certain disregard for the lived experiences and insights of our regional communities.
As the Shadow Water Minister, and someone who lives in the regional basin community of Deniliquin, I'm intimately aware of the repercussions that these alterations will cast over our local farmers, businesses, and communities.
A centralised, Canberra approach is not reflective of the concerns resonating within our regions.
I attempted to have the inquiry amended in order to ensure these regional voices were heard, but it was voted down.
In response to this glaring oversight, my colleagues on the Coalition Backbench Committee on Agriculture and I will be visiting regional basin communities next week to hear from people on the ground.
These meetings are not just an opportunity to listen, but a space to forge mutual understanding and to explore the impacts these legislative changes could have on our communities.
We will be visiting regional basin communities, including Shepparton, Renmark, Mildura, Griffith, and Moree.
The discussions, concerns, and insights raised will greatly help to shape and inform our stance on the Water Act Amendments and help us to argue the case for our communities in Parliament.
As has been routinely stated by this government in relation to another topical matter, when you listen to people on the ground who are impacted by decisions made in Canberra, you get better results.
The combination of our voices is crucial to achieving a prosperous future for the Murray-Darling Basin to ensure we have a healthy environment and viable regional economies into the future.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.