On the road with the Convoy to Canberra

By Jamie Salter

They came in their thousands, shouting slogans and waving placards, demanding to be heard. But despite the noise, there was a noticeable feeling that it had fallen on deaf ears.

“I was heard by a lot of people, but I don’t know if the politicians have heard me.”

J & T Russell Contracting's John Russell from Kyabram let out a his frustration on Barnaby Joyce in Canberra on Monday, December 2.

Farmers from across northern Victoria rose before dawn and travelled in buses, cars and trucks for hours to protest the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We pay them to do their job and nothing gets done and then we have to go there,” Mr Russell said.

“I don’t consider myself an expert and they should be having an input, their game is to make the issue go away.”

Traffic crawled from Yass into Canberra as the convoy arrived around midday to begin the two-day protest.

Despite the lengthy journey, the farmers arrived in high spirits and refused to be deterred by the rain that came in intervals.

The young and old held up their signs with pride in a unique rally, as hundreds of trucks drove past Parliament House, honking their horns in hope of being heard.

Speeches were presented with passion from Australian actor Topher Field, Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks, NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton, State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, Victorian Liberal Democratic MP Tim Quilty and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.

Former tomato farmer Geoff Prestoe, from Strathmerton, said the rally was a starting point.

“We got a positive reaction from some of the politicians, maybe they'll wake up and see that something needs to be done,” he said.

The group was warned not to approach Parliament House but in an unprecedented event, pushed past the bollards and ventured to the front door.

The crowd chanted ‘Can the Plan’ and ‘No water, no food’ as they stood outside Parliament House.

The authorities lined up to form a human barricade but did not seem concerned by the protesters.

Many people were angered by the lack of appearance from Federal Water Minister David Littleproud and Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

Mixed farmer Russel Baker from Picola said he was disappointed with the results of the rally.

“I wasn't happy that none of our elected politicians came out, they're just scared,” he said.

“I went to all the rallies years ago to protest the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and they just say they'll have consultations.”

People in the crowd said they were proud of their efforts and said the protest would create a need for increased accountability.

Speak Up volunteer and mixed farmer Stuart Hipwell said the ministers needed to act.

“There's been a build-up with the rally in Tocumwal and now this,” he said.

“Coming with all the trucks and people shows there's an issue.”

What happens now may be unclear, but the rally appears to be the beginning of the fight for these farmers, as they plead for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be abolished.