The announcement of the new appointments to the Lower Murray Water Board shows Water Minister Peter Walsh’s support of LMW.
The appointments are at odds with the “Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Plan For Water”. This policy, released before the past state election, says the Coalition would, “introduce regulations to limit cross-membership of the boards of rural water authorities, urban water authorities and catchment management authorities”. It says they will, “establish a more open and democratic process for the appointment of rural water authority boards”.
The government water policy says: “Arrangements will be put in place allowing customers to elect 50 per cent of the board members of the four rural water authorities (Lower Murray, Goulburn Murray, Grampians Wimmera Mallee and Southern Rural). The Victorian Electoral Commission will be requested to provide advice on the most appropriate way of doing this.”
Two years since the state election, and the minister is failing to implement promises in his own government’s water policy.
This government was elected because it promised to change the way the former government did things. So far they are doing exactly the same, and the minister’s announcement confirms that they are going to continue doing just that.
It appears that the disaster foisted on rural irrigation communities by Water Ministers Thwaites, then Holding, will continue under Walsh. The skills-based board appointment policy has failed miserably.
Interestingly, in Sunraysia Daily (July 9, 2003), then Nationals agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh said after a meeting with Robinvale irrigators that upgrading irrigation infrastructure was the most important thing. After the upgrades had been completed, management and ownership of the system should be in the hands of the irrigators. He went on: “Our current policy is to have the upgrade and let the customers run their irrigation systems.”
Mr Walsh said he had not yet spoken to FMIT, Merbein and Red Cliffs customers, “but if they were interested in ownership after upgrading, a single management body, like the Central Irrigation Trust in the Riverland with district committees, could be a very viable option – something we talked about in Robinvale”.
But minister Walsh, what has changed since 2003? The district irrigators have been asking for the Central Irrigation Trust model to be introduced in Sunraysia before that time and ever since.
It is hard to fathom that the minister believes that the Lower Murray region is so devoid of capable people willing to offer themselves for election who could better run their water authority than the present appointed board. Yet the minister not only reappoints the deputy chair and adds two others against his own government criteria, he publicly congratulates them on a job well done.
How can a job be well done when the district irrigation areas of FMIT, Merbein and Red Cliffs have dwindled to just over half their former size under LMW management? LMW has a deferred tax liability of tens of million of dollars – its last annual report say it lost $9.6 million that year. The authority reached its lowest point when a Victorian Supreme Court jury recently found them guilty of defaming four former FMIT directors.
This district is condemned to fade away unless the minister scraps the present system and starts again. As long as people with links to the discredited Deakin Project remain in any decision-making position within the water industry, we cannot move forward.
The time is right to introduce the new model based on the Central Irrigation Trust.
Merbein horticulturist, and co-founder and current president of the Sunraysia Irrigators Council.