Shadow minister promises to help Southern Downs farmers
STARVING cattle, dry creek beds and dusty fields spoke louder than words of struggling farmers ever could during the shadow minister for natural resources' visit to the Southern Downs this week.
Shadow minister Dale Last heard the outcry of more than 900 farmers affected by State Government restrictions that limit unmetered bore irrigation to two nights per week, jeopardising crop production and livestock management.
"I wanted to see the impact of drought on this area firsthand,” Mr Last said.
"I wanted to meet with farmers out here and talk about the irrigation water because it's their livelihood.”
Irrigator and former deputy mayor Ross Bartley walked Mr Last over to unmetered bores in a wilting Lucerne field and explained the cost of metering and decommissioning.
"My personal sentiment is that I'm not going to race out and put a meter on during one of our worst droughts, because we could be cut back further yet,” Mr Bartley said.
"It's pretty massive to just pull $8000 out of the air and I won't do it.”
After lengthy discussions with community members, Mr Last told irrigators he would call on the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham, to grant a 12-month moratorium on the installation of meters.
"For the government to come in and overnight determine meters are going to be compulsory and start enforcing water allocation with no consultation is simply not on,” he said.
"They've just come in and completely railroaded these farmers.
Without irrigation a lot of these farmers would go to the wall.”
Mr Last said he would encourage the Department of Natural Resources to establish user groups to determine allocations, ownerships of bores and calculate a formula to provide certainty for irrigators.
"Some of these farmers are just seeing black clouds on the horizon for their future here and they need to know they'll be given sufficient water to grow their crops,” he said.
"There is nothing more unsettling than to have your livelihood threatened because of potential changes from a government who have not come out here and have not consulted.
"We need to protect these small farmers because they are the backbone of this community.”
State member for Southern Downs James Lister said he was grateful for Mr Last's visit.
"It raises the political discussion to a higher level than just having a local member talk about it,” he said.
"Shadow ministers have the opportunity to ask questions inparliament in Question Time and so forth.”
Mr Bartley said he hoped State Government members would continue to educate themselves on rural issues.
A Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy spokesman said the department understood the concerns and was considering proposals to address the matters.