‘Beyond a joke’

COHUNA community members were left "absolutely disgusted" by the Independent Murray Darling Basin socioeconomic panel last week, with locals claiming it was "just more of the circus".

The Independent Murray Darling Basin socioeconomic panel, established to undertake an assessment of social and economic conditions in basin communities, paid Cohuna a visit on Friday to hear from the local communities about "current social and economic conditions".

More than 150 locals banded together to attend the session, despite late knowledge that the panel was being held, and the middle of the day time slot which was allocated for the session, which took place at the Cohuna Bowls Club.

However, the Independent experts appointed to the panel David McKenzie and Bruce Simpson, were 30 minutes late to the allocated two hours, with Cohuna dairy farmer Jodie Hay telling the Gannawarra Times that it "was all downhill from there".

"One of the biggest kicks in the gut was when they gave out information graphs to those in attendance, and two of the graphs were directed at Cohuna's education levels from 2006 to 2017," she said.

"It was very vindictive and not really relevant to the issues at hand."

More graphs detailing the business and life statistics for Cohuna - depicted as being surrounded by dairy farms, fruit and vegetable growers and tobacco farmers - showed a 'marginal decrease' in the number of businesses in operation.

"I was absolutely disgusted reading the so-called statistics, as there was so much disregard for a paper that was printed and prepared for us, yet it is stating information 50 years out of date.

"I really question their purpose and have no confidence in this entire process when there is so little care given when conducting an event like this, and in the manner they did it, it seems the government would like us to believe we are uneducated and unimportant.

"It was appalling and all they did was add salt to our open wounds.

"The only positive to come out of the panel was knowing that our community has an amazing fighting spirit."

Cohuna dairy farmer and National Herd chairperson Gary Wight told the Gannawarra Times that receiving the information regarding their 'marginal decrease' was "hard to hear".
"Our whole area is affected dramatically by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, I mean last year alone we would have had 180 customers and now we have about 40, because farmers unfortunately have to leave their farms in this current state," he said.
"Sales are down 20 per cent roughly and you can't blame any of the individual farmers, because everybody is just doing it so tough right now."
Mr Wight attended the Independent MDB socioeconomic panel and said it "really hit home" just how much everyone was struggling when he witnessed farmers shedding many tears on the night.
"It was heartbreaking to watch," he said.
"It was good they were able to speak their truth and open up because it needed to be said.
"This isn't just about losing money anymore, this is affecting entire families and their entire lives."
Cohuna dairy farmer Gavin Dehne echoed Mr Wights statements.
"For the government to disclose the idea that there is no socioeconomic decline from the plan is beyond a joke," Mr Dehne said.
"The anxieties farmers have been carrying for years now have been flowing onto their children, with young kids even going to school worried about their parents and the farm," he said.
Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud said the panel drop-in sessions would provide information to help deliver a preliminary report in December.
"Government needs to know exactly what the affects of its policies are - that's just common sense," Mr Littleproud said.
"The plan is not perfect as you'd expect when several governments have to agree, but it's the very best we're going to get and for certainty in rural communities, it must be delivered."
Mr Wight said December was too long to wait, but hoped the message was getting through.
"It's hard to have faith when you turn up to so many of these meetings or rallies to be heard, and feel like they continue implementing what they want to anyway," he said.
"I just hope someone is listening."
An online survey is available for those that could not attend Friday's meeting.