Water in his sights

By Geoff Adams

Federal member elect Damian Drum will have water on his mind in his new job representing the federal seat of Murray.

Although not declared elected, the election count puts him ahead of his nearest rival, Duncan McGauchie, who has already conceded defeat.

Mr Drum lists the backpacker tax, the dairy industry, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and Goulburn-Murray Water’s controversial Connections project as among his top agricultural priorities.

However, until the election is declared, the former state parliamentarian is a man without a position, without an office and without staff.

Key water figures in the electorate are hoping he can help protect the region from further plundering of irrigation water for environmental flows for the Murray-Darling Basin.

He said he would be lobbying to stop the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ due to be set aside for the environment from being snatched from northern Victoria.

‘‘Barnaby Joyce already knows I’ll be fighting to secure water for our farmers and that includes making sure South Australia’s 450Gl of extra basin plan water doesn’t come out of our district.’’

However he cautions that he is just one member in a government and there are five states all with a stake in the outcome of the plan.

He is also likely to see a briefing from G-MW on the progress of the troubled $2billion Connections program which is undergoing a re-set, as soon as he settles into his new job.

His predecessor, Sharman Stone, was demanding a royal commission into G-MW and at one stage wanted to see federal funding stopped while the problems were sorted out, but Mr Drum said he would not be going down that path.

Mr Drum will have high expectations on him to perform in the new position, and VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson was disappointed in the quality of debate over water leading up to the election.

He is hoping to catch Mr Drum’s ear on water issues in the ensuing months.

‘‘The most critical issue we have to deal with is the backpacker tax,’’ Mr Drum said on Thursday.

He wants to bring the review forward to give fruit growers and overseas backpackers time to plan for the new season.

‘‘It’s no good making a decision in January; young people make their decisions months in advance.’’

Mr Drum said he would also be seeking information on the take-up of low-interest loans for dairy farmers to determine how successful the support package was.

He acknowledged there was a lot of anger in the electorate about Murray Goulburn’s decision to claw-back payments made to suppliers.