By VINNIE RODI

INDEPENDENT candidate for the seat of Mallee, Jason Modica, has undertaken a tour of the electorate this week in an effort to gauge locals views ahead of the 2019 Federal Election.

Cr Modica departed Mildura on Tuesday, saying he had stopped at “every Mallee town and cafe ” along the way before arriving in Horsham.

“I was at the Resilience Project last night (Tuesday) in Horsham at the Town Hall, which was presented by Martin Heppell, who talks about building resilience into young people and into smaller communities,” he said. “A lot of students, teachers and service providers were present, and it was very interesting.”

Cr Modica said that his campaign platform, which mainly surrounds water security and ensuring the Mallee can continue to grow and prosper through correct infrastructure and Federal Government spending, was resonating with locals.

“It’s been really interesting. I’ve been speaking to lots of farmers who are very concerned about the accessibility of water, and if there’s no rain between now and when water is allocated next year, the broad acreage farmers down here are concerned.

“Farmers are also concerned about the cost of insurance and the cost of land. They are also looking at the ramifications of the changing climate, and how that will play out.

“People are just happy to have someone listen, and that’s what I’m trying to do – get a handle on what’s happening in every little town in the electorate. It’s huge, but I’m here and listening, and everyone has been very receptive.”

Cr Modica was also critical of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) decision this week to base an office in Mildura (see Page 9), labelling it as an “afterthought.”

“I think it’s a very political move. The evidence about the decline of the Darling has been known for three to five years,” he said. “Even meetings I’ve been in during the past three years, staff from the MDBA have not really listened to stakeholders on the ground. 

“It’s good that it’s going to be here, it’s just disappointing that it’s so late.

“I also see the move as an election stunt (by the National Party) to give their candidate something to hang her hat on. This has happened on numerous occasions since people started campaigning.”

Cr Modica also made reference to the decision to close the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.

“I know people who worked there who were very disappointed because of the amount of money that was brought into the region through that research centre, and the amount of work they did helping both rivers in regard to connectivity and environmental flows,” he said.

Cr Modica, who also currently holds the title of Mildura Rural City Council Deputy Mayor, said he felt that he had so far been able to keep both political hats separate.

This was despite recent criticism being levelled at him by fellow Mildura Councillor Glenn Milne.

Cr Milne last month questioned Cr Modica’s motives for moving a motion in Council to back calls made by The Australian Institute to ban floodplain harvesting in NSW.

Cr Modica’s motion was backed five votes to three by Councillors, with Cr Milne and Cr Greg Brown since moving a motion to rescind the decision.

“I think as long as you state what you’re doing then it’s not a problem,” Cr Modica said in relation to acting as both a Councillor and a Federal candidate. 

“I think one of the more interesting issues is water, and I think it was August 2017 when I was Glenn Milne’s deputy, that we drove to Broken Hill to meet with Wentworth and Broken Hill Councils. We were both signatories to the letter we voted on to actually look into the issues on the Darling.

“I don’t understand why he (Cr Milne) chose not to act on his democratic duty (regarding the motion Cr Modica put forward at the last meeting).

“While I was Cr Milne’s deputy, he told me that you had to respect the vote of Council, so I don’t understand why Cr Milne would go into bat for an empty river and fish kills.

“I think his stance is political, and I wonder who he represents sometimes when he sits in Council.”

Cr Modica maintained that, under the rules, he was entitled to remain on Council, and in the deputy mayoral position, for the time being.

“I’m a prospective candidate, and when the time comes when the writs are issued, that is when I’ll take a leave of absence,” he said. “This is not unusual. It’s a very normal procedure to go through, and quite a lot of people who have come into Federal politics have done so through the municipal level of government.

“I’m aware that people will make suggestions that it doesn’t quite fit – it does.

“You need to identify and be aware of what you’re doing. We’re in a highly-political environment at the moment, and the National Party is in a situation it has never been in before.

“The seat of Mallee was created in 1949 and there’s only been four people who have represented the area.

“We have a brilliant opportunity to bring new ideas and thoughts and processes into our area, that have probably been overlooked due to the complacency of previous incumbents, and how things have changed in the past 10 years.

“Mildura is in a situation now political where we can mature, and look at the deeper choices that are being thrown up in this electorate.”