Never was it clearer that the fate of southern Queensland’s small cotton communities rests in the hands of politicians than in the council chambers at St George last week when Senator Pauline Hanson was in town, along with local member, David Littleproud.
Plummeting land values, incomes reducing by half, and the knock-on effects manifested in increasing levels of domestic violence and drug abuse were laid out by Balonne shire councillors waiting on tenterhooks for a parliamentary vote likely in August or September to decide on water buyback levels.
Council CEO, Matthew Magin, told Ms Hanson that whatever she may have heard, the effects of Murray-Darling Basin buyback decisions already made were significantly worse than when circumstances were last surveyed.
“The effects hadn’t washed through back then,” he said.
Cr Ian Todd told the senator one of the important things to understand was that irrigators would be fine, thanks to compensation.
“In the firing line are the communities that will feel the economic pain,” he said.
”There are key environmental assets at Dirranbandi; that’s why this is affecting them the most.
“Land once worth $150,000 is now down to $90,000. There’s a negative equity – people can’t leave now.”
Ms Hanson said she and fellow PHON senators had toured the southern basin and had found growers on their knees, and she intended to undertake a similar tour in the northern basin.
She also said a sustainability review needed to take place.
David Littleproud said he’d be disappointed if a Queensland senator didn’t support the council’s stated aim of a recovery target of 320GL of water from the northern basin.
“It’s good that she wants to understand the issue, but this is five minutes to midnight,” he said.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan currently seeks to recover 390GL of northern basin water.
“If they stick with that we’ll all walk away,” Cr Todd said.