Nationals senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie said she hoped a revised Murray-Darling Basin Plan would see regional communities thrive.
Delivering the keynote address to Murray River Group of Councils’ Bridging the Border conference, Ms McKenzie focused on the historical flexibility of towns along the Murray River.
‘‘Change is intuitively understood in country Victoria because of our natural affinity with the environment,’’ she said.
‘‘Our farming practices have changed. Local economies are not the same as they were during the heyday of the paddle steamer.
‘‘The river though has been the constant as a source of wealth creation.’’
Ms McKenzie said irrigated agriculture had been the primary economic driver for Murray River communities and was the key to their future.
She said the strong advocacy of Murray River Group of Councils and the Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils around the issue of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan had to continue for local communities’ perspectives to be heard at the state and national level.
‘‘The modern Australian social contract between government and citizen needs to recognise the 30 per cent of Australians who do not reside in urban cities and deserve to have meaningful input into governance,’’ she said.
At the two-day biennial conference held in Moama last week, local councils, businesses and government agencies came together to discuss the future of the region.
Ms McKenzie opposes water buybacks as a solution to environmental flows and said she hoped Water Minister Tony Burke would heed the concerns of Victorian communities in his response to the meetings.
Ms McKenzie said the negativity and polarised nature of the debate around the plan needed to change.
‘‘I stand here as a regional Victorian, along with many of you here, who does not see wanting a healthy river and profitable regional communities as two mutually exclusive ideas,’’ she said.
‘‘One can be a proponent of irrigated agriculture and the communities and life it sustains, and be concerned about the environment.
‘‘Farmers are the front-line conservationists.’’