Rural communities rally against water buybacks

Hundreds of farmers have rallied across three towns warning against water buybacks from the Murray Darling Basin, with legislation being considered by the senate.

The lunchtime rallies were staged in the Murray Darling Basin NSW towns of Griffith, Deniliquin, and Leeton as anger mounts over any proposal that includes buybacks.

Coordinated by local councils and backed by the National Farmers Federation, producers joined agricultural workers and local business owners at the rallies.

Deniliquin residents have taken to the streets to protest against Murray Darling water buybacks.

At the largest rally of an estimated 2000 people in Griffith, a convoy of tractors and trucks moved through the town.

Protesters are opposed to changes to the Murray-Darling plan that will result in further buybacks taking water away from agricultural use.

Changes to the plan before the senate would result in the return of 450 gigalitres of additional water to the environment by December 2027.

"Decisions are being made in Canberra by politicians that haven't even bothered to face our community,'' Griffith mayor Doug Curran said.

"We’ve been through the pain of buybacks already and we thought we were done with it."

Organisers say about 600 people turned out in Deniliquin, where cotton and rice are big business.

Water buyback rally.
Rallies against water buybacks for the Murray Darling Basin Plan were held in three towns.

Dairy farmer Malcolm Holm from Blighty in NSW says people feel ignored by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

"By diminishing the water pool it will impact not only dairy but rice, cotton and permanent plantings as well," Mr Holm told AAP.

"Minister Plibersek hasn't really visited where the previous buybacks happened, where a lot of that water came from, she's just ignored us."

But Ms Plibersek says she will look at options including on-farm and off-farm efficiency projects and voluntary water purchases to deliver the 450 gigalitres back to the environment.

"The Restoring Our Rivers Bill will rescue the Murray-Darling Basin Plan by allowing more time, more options, more funding and more accountability," she said.

"I don’t want to see all this water bought – that’s why I am extending timeframes to give basin governments more time to finish their water saving projects."

Environment minister Tanya Plibersek
Tanya Plibersek says the Restoring Our Rivers Bill will allow more time, funding and accountability.

Not all farmers are opposed to the legislation.

The Murray-Darling Conservation Alliance, representing farmers, irrigators, First Nations leaders and environmental groups, wants the bill strengthened.

The alliance says the government must ensure enough water is returned to rivers to offer the Murray-Darling a lifeline in the face of likely droughts.

Bill McClumpha, an irrigator from Red Cliffs in Victoria, says he believes most irrigators support the basic elements of the basin plan.

"Rural decline has many causes, but water recovery is not one of them," he says.

Garry Hall who runs cattle on the Macquarie Marshes in the northern basin of NSW says there are many people up and down the basin who support ongoing water purchases.

"We're faced with with massive change coming in inland rivers in eastern Australia, and if the hard decisions aren't made now they'll eventually have to be made in our kids or our grandkids lifetime."

The alliance presented a petition of 10,000 signatures urging Ms Plibersek to protect rivers.

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