The Victorian Nationals’ new water spokesperson, Steph Ryan, will have some big gumboots to fill, following in the footsteps of experienced portfolio holder Peter Walsh.
The young deputy leader and State Member for Euroa picked up the task in a reshuffle announced last week, but which must have been on the minds of the parliamentary group for some time.
The water portfolio is one valued by the party and in view of the interest from farming constituents, is presumably one that would not be tossed around as a prize.
While the portfolio is new to Ms Ryan, the water issues have been around long enough for her to have a broad appreciation of what gets irrigated farmers going.
She grew up on irrigated farms in Murchison and Wyuna.
‘‘I was motivated to enter politics after I watched the Brumby Government devastate northern Victorian communities with the unbundling of water rights and its decision to take water from drought-stricken farmers in northern Victoria to supply Melbourne,’’ Ms Ryan said.
She will be lobbying to see the Murray-Darling Basin Plan does not take the 450Gl of up-water that is discretionary under the socio-economic impact condition.
She said the loss of the extra water would be devastating to the rural basin communities.
Ms Ryan said the Victorian Government needed to do everything it could to demonstrate the socio-economic impact of the loss of water.
She described the Victorian Government’s desalination plant as a ‘‘white elephant’’ that had drained millions of dollars from Melburnians.
‘‘Labor has made such a mess that it now has to order 15Gl every year, just to keep its desalination plant working.’’
Ms Ryan was surprised the federal parliamentary inquiry into irrigation efficiency had chosen not to conduct any hearings in northern Victoria, given the importance of irrigation to the region, and the involvement of many farms in implementing more efficient water delivery.
She intends to look for feedback from farmers who are involved in the $2billion Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project and wants to hear how the project is working after its re-set.
The Nationals were part of a strong campaign against the original Foodbowl Modernisation Project when it included the Sugarloaf pipeline designed to take up to 75Gl a year to Melbourne consumers from Eildon in return for massive irrigation upgrades.
‘‘We always supported the upgrading of infrastructure in northern Victoria but not the trade-off to take water from northern irrigation communities,’’ Ms Ryan said.
She said the Victorian Government, which developed the project, could have separated the two.
Asked if it was the best deal ever made for northern Victorian irrigators, considering hardly any water had flowed down the pipe, she agreed that might be the case, but only because a subsequent coalition government with Peter Walsh as water minister had prevented the pipeline being used, except in exceptional circumstances.