AUSTRALIA’s Deputy Prime Minister made a fleeting visit to Echuca on Thursday.
Barnaby Joyce was a special guest at Cock ‘N’ Bull Restaurant for breakfast as he met a range of local leaders including Peter Walsh, Damian Drum and business owners.
A spokesperson for Mr Walsh’s office said the three main issues raised were energy availability and pricing, the Murray Darling Basin Plan — particularly the 450GL of upwater — and the opportunities to grow the tourism industry along the Murray River.
Mr Joyce has been a regular visitor to Echuca, previously making appearances in May 2015 and May 2016 respectively.
The visit from the Federal Nationals leader was partly overshadowed by comments he made at a pub in Shepparton on Wednesday.
In a recording obtained by the ABC, Mr Joyce was heard dismissing a Four Corners report into alleged water theft along the Murray Darling Basin in NSW.
The program, aired last Monday, alleged billions of litres of water meant for the environment had been pumped into private dams in far west NSW.
Mr Joyce, the Federal Water Minister, claimed the report was a ploy to take water away from irrigators and ‘‘shut more of your towns down’’.
‘‘I’m glad it’s our portfolio, a National Party portfolio because we can go out and say no, we’re not going to follow on that, we’re not going to scare you,’’ he reportedly told the Pollies in the Pub event.
‘‘We’ve taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show.’’
The comments led to South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter calling for Mr Joyce to lose the water portfolio.
Mr Joyce’s office was approached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Murray Darling Association (MDA) has renewed its call for local government to be given a voice in the implementation of the Basin Plan.
It is demanding a seat on the Basin Officials Committee, which is currently restricted to government representatives from each of the states.
MDA chief executive Emma Bradbury said the issues raised in the Four Corners report centred on compliance and enforcement of rules.
‘‘It is important that rigorous checks and balances are in place, and that effective compliance and enforcement activities enable the community to have faith in the Basin Plan, and in the state-run water sharing plans that support its implementation,’’ she said.
Ms Bradbury said the integrity of the Basin Plan had not been compromised, but emphasised the need for communities and all levels of government to work together and stay the course.