Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By VINNIE RODI

A LARGE cohort of Sunraysia fruit growers will march on Federal Parliament early next month to call for immediate action in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The protest will see growers from key irrigation and farming industries voice their disapproval of Murray-Darling Basin Authority actions and water policies, and raise concerns regarding the impact of the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Canberra protest is being organised by Sunraysia Citrus Growers Inc. (SCG), with growers to make the trip on December 2 and 3.

SCG chair, Kevin Cock, PICTURED, said that current government policy around water use was killing local farmers.

“Rural communities have had enough, we need to protest – loudly,” he said. “The Basin communities are in a mess.

“Implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is wrecking our food bowl. Environmental water continues to drain into the Southern Ocean while families, farms and communities close down.

“We need to stop environmental water running into the sea… What is the point? Where is the environmental benefit?”

Around 50 to 60 growers are expected to make the trip to state their case on the steps of Parliament House.

“We’re getting interest from citrus, wine grape and dried fruit growers to take part, but their respective organisations need to start stepping up to the plate,” Mr Cock said.

“We’re putting in the work, planning and logistics, but we need respective industry chairs and CEOs to go and negotiate a deal once this is all done.”

Mr Cock said that while climate change was to blame for the region’s woes, he was adamant not enough was being done to help the country adapt to current conditions.

“How can we adapt… without water?” he said. “It’s hard enough now. 

“The sun is getting hotter, we’re seeing burnt fruit that I’ve never seen in my life, we see oranges re-greening earlier thanks to their natural sunscreen, and we’re getting bugs and insects coming down from Queensland that we’ve never seen before.

“The National Irrigators Council chair has also recently come out and told growers to toughen up, and ride the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through to completion, as the benefits will be there in the long run.

“The problem is we won’t have anyone left by the time that comes to fruition.

“Our dairy farmers are gone, our rice farmers are all but gone, and now we here in Victoria are being affected, and NSW won’t be far behind.

“NSW low security water entitlements are zero at the moment, everyone has had to go and buy water at extraordinary prices, and they’re not getting the returns to cover costs.

“We need to ensure that we are using water effectively for the environments, towns and food production that we’re going to need in the future.”

Mr Cock said that the protest would also help local growers suffering from mental health issues connect with those also feeling the pinch.

“If this can help save a life or a marriage then it will be worth it,” he said.

Mr Cock, 65 – a third generation farmer currently operating an 84-acre citrus property in Buronga – said the industry was in as tough a spot as he has seen in his 50-plus years on the land.

“We went through the Millennium Drought, and I forgave the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the government of the time, thinking that this is a one-off, and surely they will make adjustments,” he said.

“Now we’re back here again, and there’s been no adjustment at all. They’re trying to make policy on the run.

“We’re only supposed to see something like the Millennium Drought once in our lives – we’ve seen it twice in 15 years. This drought is man-made, there’s no doubt about that.”

SCG is planning to subsidise Sunraysia citrus growers’ travel expenses, with Mr Cock calling on other industries to follow suit.

Those interested in taking part in the protest can contact Mr Cock on 0418 502 293, or visit the SCG website – http://mvcitrus.org.au/mvcb.