TODAY’S Murray Darling Basin Authority public forum in Mildura has run over time.
MDBA chairman Craig Knowles and Federal Water Minister Tony Burke agreed to stay back after the scheduled finishing time of 5pm to continue discussions with local irrigators and community representatives.
With seating available for 800, the venue was about half full at its peak – a far cry from the 2000 people who crammed into the Midway Centre at Buronga for a similar meeting in December 2010.
The consultation began with a two-hour ”open house” where dozens of people with questions were given the opportunity to put them directly to MDBA and Federal Government staff.
Mildura Mayor John Arnold and Wentworth Mayor Marg Thomson made opening statements and Mr Knowles gave an overview of the process.
They were followed by Murray Valley Winegrowers chief executive officer Mark McKenzie, former New South Wales Irrigators’ Council chairman Col Thomson, Mildura Development Corporation chief executive officer Anne Mansell, Dried Fruits Australia chairman Mark King and Environmental Murray Wetlands Working Group spokesman Howard Jones.
The rest of the time was allocated to questions and statements from 21 people in the audience.
The meeting was largely orderly, although the passion of the irrigators for their district and industries was unmistakable.
Senator Bridget McKenzie, who was in the audience, this afternoon issued a media release labelling the consultation process a ”rolling sham”.
”If the government were serious about consulting with the public they would not hold a consultation at Mildura in the middle of grape harvest season,” she said.
”After holding all of the hearings during the Christmas holidays last year, the government is now putting on hearings at the most inconvenient time.”
The timing of the meeting was raised by several members of the audience and a number of table grape growers contacted by The Weekly Times said they were too busy harvesting to attend.