Bob Baldwin and Sussan Ley on the MDB listening tour this week.NSW Liberal MP Sussan Ley has urged the Coalition government to move on legislating for the 1500 gigalitre cap on water buybacks they committed to in opposition.
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“We’ve got to ensure that rural industries in the Murray-Darling Basin survive and thrive,” she said, standing alongside new Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister, Bob Baldwin, at Tuesday’s funding announcement near Deniliquin.

“A legislated cap will give additional security to irrigated agriculture – and that’s vital.”

Mr Baldwin said he’d only been in his new job five weeks and hadn’t formally returned to parliament since the appointment was made, to consider any draft legislation related to advancing the water buyback cap.

He said any draft legislation would be put through Environment Minister Greg Hunt to take to cabinet for final approval.

He stressed the cap was a Coalition election commitment and “we’re committed to it”. But he said, “We’re not going to put legislation to the parliament if the Senate is going to play silly buggers and knock it back”.

Mr Baldwin said the government would legislate the 1500GL cap but Victorian Independent Senator John Madigan, who also toured Basin communities this week to gather stakeholder views and support for a Senate inquiry into the Basin Plan, must vote with the government.

“All he (Senator Madigan) has to do is step up to the plate and support us in our legislative agenda to deliver the outcomes that you the people want on the land,” he said.

“We don’t have time for politics – we’ve got a potential dry period of 10 years coming ahead of us – we need to deliver outcomes and that requires the support of the States and the Senate.

“We can either play parliamentary games and make ourselves look big in the media by having all these inquiries, or you can get off your ass and actually vote for the legislation that’ll go through.

“People say it’s time for the rubber to hit the road well it’s time for the water to hit the weir.

“What we need is we need actually to see it (the Basin Plan) rolled out.

“Enough pontification, enough talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.

“There are people wanting too many inquiries (and) too much dialogue.

“It’s time to actually engage, get on top of it and start delivering and we want to deliver outcomes but we can’t deliver outcomes while people keep holding things up.”

Ms Ley said she believed the recent change in leadership at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) would help to improve consultation with stakeholders in her electorate and generate better understanding, given Mr Andrew is an ex-irrigator.

She said it was “fair to say” some community members had lost confidence in the Authority, “when decisions and statements were made that didn’t pass the common sense test”.

“What we’ve missed out on is genuine consultation on the ground with communities,” she said while declining to give a specific example.

“I think it’s fair to say some in this community lost confidence in the Authority

Ms Ley said Mr Baldwin’s base understanding of agriculture’s economic importance to rural communities was a key to his new appointment.

“There are a lot of complexities in water and Bob is getting his head around all those and he will,” she said.

“But for me to have somebody in his position who ‘gets it’, in terms of we’re here to grow food to feed the nation and rice is a crop, a product and a contribution to the national economy that we should value as highly as possible…. is a great starting point.”

She said Mr Andrews would approach the Basin with a “neutral, dispassionate perspective but we’ll get him to feel pretty passionate about us”.

Mr Baldwin said he had no pre-conceived ideas about the Basin Plan but was “a very outcomes driven person”.

“You show me the method, show me the outcome (and) I will support the outcomes,” he said.

“We want outcomes for our farmers, we want outcomes for our environment (and) we want a balanced approach.

“I have no preconceived ideas – I came to this portfolio with a total open mind.

“I’m not an irrigator, I’m not a farmer so I’m prepared to sit down and listen to everyone.”

But Mr Baldwin reiterated the government’s key commitment to will deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, across the entire spectrum.

“We will deliver wins for farmers; we will deliver wins for the environment – that’s why the federal government is stumping up the cash,” he said.

“We need all of the States coming together and working as a homogenous team to deliver the outcome across the board because no one State can deliver it in isolation; it’s a team Australia approach.”

“The plan that’s there has been agreed to by all four states and what we need to do is get it implemented.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it”Father and son irrigation team, Alan and Will Wragge, hosted Bob Baldwin’s Murray Darling Basin delegation on their property Yaloke west of Deniliquin on Tuesday, where they run a mixed farming operation producing rice, wheat, barley and oats, along with merino sheep and fat lambs.

Alan said in his opinion rather than community opinion, he believed the Basin Plan had settled down now, after years of ongoing conjecture during the design phase.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it,” he said.

“I heard that buying water off the farmers had stripped 50 per cent of the water out of Wakool district and that will be a huge headache for Murray Irrigation, with huge costs.”

Will said he had no great concerns about the Basin Plan which had, “gone quiet for a while and everyone’s forgotten about it a bit”.

He said talk suggested the federal government would now be trying to recover the remaining water volumes it needed through water efficiency projects, rather than water buybacks, which was easing community anxiety.

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