Sussan Ley crushes all comers to retain Farrer

By Charmayne Allison

Despite many commentators expecting Sussan Ley to be fighting for her political life on Saturday night, she swept into her seventh parliament, crushing all-comers — including high-profile and heavily backed water candidate Kevin Mack.

The veteran politician has fended off a powerful backlash about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its impact in Farrer.

And, with Scott Morrison almost certain to be Prime Minister, in his own right at best and as a minority government at worst, Ms Ley said either way it meant a ‘‘much bigger profile’’ for the region.

And a much stronger emphasis on water.

Locals can now only wait and see whether she can, and will, deliver on her promises.

Farrer was considered highly vulnerable leading up to Saturday’s federal election, especially after the Coalition lost conservative stronghold Murray in the recent NSW election.

However, the danger never materialised, and it took less than an hour for the fate of Farrer to be decided.

With 80 per cent of votes counted on Sunday, Mr Mack was well adrift on 39.1 per cent on a two-party preferred basis compared to Ms Ley’s 60.9 per cent.

Although he did record a 7.1 per cent swing.

For the many local irrigators who were praying for a pause to the controversial basin plan, it was not good news.

Ms Ley had argued a pause to the plan would be worse for farmers if Labor, the Greens or independents seized control of parliament.

But even with the Coalition expected to form government, she still was not budging.

‘‘It wasn’t my main reason for not backing a pause to the plan, it was because it’s actually not achievable by one government in a group of basin states to make that happen,’’ she said.

‘‘Certainly there was a huge downside if Labor got into government, no question. But we don’t need to pause the plan, we need to improve the plan.’’

One of Ms Ley’s top priorities was to roll out an independent review into how local communities were being impacted by zero general security water allocations.

She said the review would start as soon as the government returned to Canberra and hoped it would take just six months to complete.

‘‘It’s not just a review for the sake of it, it’s actually real, chaired by (rural advocate) Robbie Sefton, known to many farmers,’’ she said.

‘‘(It will benchmark) where we are, where we need to be and what the impacts of current policy are having on farmers and their water allocations.

‘‘That will give us the evidence we need to really make a case for change.’’

Asked when the government would take dramatic action to aid desperate farmers suffering under the water crisis, Ms Ley countered she did not ‘‘deal in the dramatic’’ or ‘‘deal in crisis’’.

‘‘I deal in support, consideration for the best policies going forward, immediate help where needed and empowering communities to face difficult times but also to help construct the future that’s best for all of us in the real world,’’ she said.

‘‘And for me, I know water policy is the most important thing and that’s why it’s my most important issue.’’

While water has dominated debate this federal election, Ms Ley said it was number one in a raft of other local issues she planned to address.

‘‘I’ve promised to improve water policy at the national level, working closely with the state governments on both sides of the border, because the basin plan is very much about the basin states,’’ she said.

‘‘But we’ve also had a big rural health agenda going into this election, pledging $550million for more doctors and nurses in regional Australia.

‘‘Infrastructure is another big one as we improve the Newell Hwy, finish the Echuca-Moama bridge, build the new Tooleybuc-Swan Hill bridge and continue with our broad support for programs and regional development.

‘‘I’ll watch those roll out and look for more opportunities for this region.’’