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Angry farmers throw effigy of Federal Water Minister sitting on toilet into Murray River

Rhiannon Tuffield and Warwick Long, Friday September 6, 2019 - 19:40 EST
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An effigy of Federal Water Minister David Littleproud is tossed into the Murray River. - ABC

Thousands of farmers are calling for Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to be sacked, as frustrations around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan boil over.

About 1,500 people showed their anger over water policy and the impact of the Plan at a rally in Tocumwal in central New South Wales and tossed an effigy — of Mr Littleproud sitting in a toilet — into the river.

Rally organiser Jan Beer said the Plan needed to be "paused and fixed" because too many communities were being destroyed.

"We decided that David Littleproud is full of you know what, and he is doing nothing about the Basin Plan," Ms Beer said.

"So we had a toilet on the 'Foodbowl to Dustbowl pipe' with signs saying: 'On the nose and leaving us in the ****', and when we got to the middle of the bridge, we chucked him overboard.

"We've got a tracker on him and we'll see if he actually makes it out the Murray mouth.

"There is all this water in the river and the mismanagement of it by the Federal Government and the MDBA is so horrific that we just want to get rid of this minister and we want someone who will come and listen to us."

Calls to 'pause the Plan'

The demonstrators called for a pause on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan while a proper examination of lower lakes in South Australia can be undertaken.

"We want to pause the Basin Plan because there's so much wrong with it, because people here today will be destroyed by Christmas time probably," Ms Beer said.

"We are the people that produce Australia's food and if you don't watch out, we'll be gone and you'll be importing food from China a lot more than we are now."

Farmers languishing on zero water allocations in the NSW Murray region are frustrated that the Murray River has been running high all year, taking water past their farms to the South Australian lower lakes or downstream to almond and table grape plantations.

"We've just walked across the Murray River and it's nearly running a banker in the middle of his [Littleproud's] drought," Shelley Scoullar from the Speak Up 4 Water group said.

"This is not a drought, this is the Basin Plan."

Water 'too dear' to buy

Deniliquin beef farmers Stuart and Jenny Blease gave up dairy farming last year due to a lack of water.

The farmers — who said they were now only just surviving — said they were operating off zero water allocations.

Mr Blease, a dairy farmer for 40 years, said farmers have been feeling the pressure for the past six years due to water leaving the area.

"I came to this region in the early '80s when there was plenty of water [and] now we can't even buy it, it's just too dear," he said.

"I want them to know the job's got to change, we've got to keep our farmers, we've got to have our food on the table and we need the water to do it."

Impact ripples through communities

Ms Blease said running farms was becoming less viable for many southern farmers.

She said more and more farms were up for sale, school numbers were declining, and shops were struggling in the towns.

"It's terrible and it's disgusting what the Government is doing with our water," she said.

"It's possible for us to have an environmental balance and a food production balance and the Government can fix it.

"There's a solution and they need to listen and be serious about the socioeconomic damage that's being done."

Littleproud 'respects protesters'

to hear what farmers had to say about drought.

In a statement, Mr Littleproud said he respected the protesters and did not want to see a return to community-destroying buybacks.

He said if the Plan was stopped, there would be no extra water in any dams and the Government would be forced to "go around and buy back water".

"When farmers are on zero water allocations, so are allocations for the environment," he said.

"I respect the protesters, they are passionate and they're doing it tough and I don't ever forget that.

"If we are respectful, kind and constructive with each other, we can solve most problems of this country.

"It's important the impacts of drought aren't confused for the outcomes of the Basin Plan."


© ABC 2019

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