A leading figure in the southern Murray Darling Basin debate has announced bold plans to stand candidates in four government-held electorates, at the next federal poll.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman and Barooga, NSW, farmer Chris Brooks says he'll be launching his own party, to stand candidates in the seats of Mallee, Nicholls, and Farrer and Riverina in NSW.
Declaring it a battle between the northern and southern Basin, Mr Brooks said his plan had gained widespread support, despite the next federal election not being held for another two years.
"It's such a big issue; it's causing such anger in agricultural and rural communities," he said.
"The National Party is not sticking up for farmers; we get nothing from the National Party, and (Farrer Liberal MP) Sussan Ley is even worse."
He said there was no room for arbitration, or mediation, to resolve some of the issues around water policy, with government bodies like the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
"What do you do?" he said.
"You either take it to court, which is expensive, difficult and a long process - at least it is independent - or we make arrangements to threaten the politician's livelihoods."
Irrigators and local businesses were "sick to death" of what they saw as the mismanagement of water across the southern Riverina and northern Victoria.
With Riverina farmers facing reduced general security water allocations for the third year running, Mr Brooks has also been critical of running the Murray River close to flood conditions, to meet irrigation demands further downstream.
"I think a lot of people are a hell of a lot more informed about water issues than they have ever been," he said.
'In those five major centres, Shepparton, Albury, Griffith, Wagga Wagga and Mildura, I have got some pretty serious agriculture-related companies very keen to put in some serious money, because they just need security."
Mr Brooks said environmentalist were also concerned about "running one river dry and flooding another."
"The unions have rated water as the number one priority for job security, and are happy to support our movement," he said.
Unions had estimated up to 4500 jobs had been lost, due to the drop in rice and cereal production.
"So I am threatening to form a well-resourced party, across four electorates that are on a knife-edge, with seriously good candidates, who are credible people."
Mr Brooks helped bankroll the tilt at the seat of Farrer, centred on Albury, at the last election, by the five-time mayor of the city, Kevin Mack.
Sitting member, Environment Minister Sussan Ley, retained the seat with 61 per cent of the vote.
Mr Brooks said many lessons had been learned from the campaign, which was affected by issues outside the electorate, such as franking credits.
He said Albury residents were now more aware how much their future was connected to agricultural industries, in the broader region.
Mr Mack achieved a third of the vote, at the last election, and Mr Brooks said he was confident of picking up another 10-15 per cent of votes.
"If we are within five per cent, I am pretty confident - and it won't be for want of resources."
He said initial support had come from Albury (Farrer) and Wagga Wagga (Riverina).
"They know me, they know the facts I've been putting up, they know my intentions," Mr Brooks said.
"If the politicians don't deliver, we will be there.
"It suits me to run it up the flagpole early; my phone hasn't stopped ringing.
'Every time this issue comes up, people want to be on board."
Most calls had come from the Wagga and Shepparton (Nicolls electorate) areas.
"People in Wagga and Shepparton are furious; they are not just a little bit upset; they are really angry."
More than water
But Mr Brooks said water issues were just the start.
"You can't use a mobile phone, I have no internet capacity at home," he said.
"Then there are roads, power, health - for us, it doesn't stop at water - for us it starts there."
Ms Ley said Mr Brooks had always had a political perspective.
'At least that is out in the open," Ms Ley said.
"I think people are tired of his scattergun approach to water politics, where the complexity of an issue is ignored by simply chasing someone to blame," she said.
"Water is an incredibly important issue for all our community, and the focus should be on practical long term solutions, not on promises of accessing water that isn't there - the Keelty report made that clear."
She said her focus remained on working with all parts of the electorate to address water security issues, and to help drive meaningful outcomes through calm and common sense advocacy between the Commonwealth and states.
Mr McCormack said anyone was entitled to put their hand up for Parliament.
"No one will deliver for regional communities, as the The Nationals have done for 100 years," Mr McCormack said.
"Our members fight day and night for their regions.
"No one is a more fierce or passionate advocate for what regional Australians need, want and deserve than a Nationals member."
He said independent members had the added challenge of not being at the decision table.
"The Nationals are at the table, making decisions and delivering billions of dollars and better outcomes for regional communities."
Nicolls Nationals MP Damian Drum said he had known Mr Brooks for many years.
"Quite simply, my conversation with him is 'Brooksy, why on earth would you want to hurt, damage and weaken the only party that is in parliament, fighting for your cause?'," Mr Drum said.
He said he wasn't surprised at the decision.
"Brooksy has been on this crusade for a number of years now," he said.
"I think he has some historical baggage against the National Party and I think that's largely to do with the NSW Nationals.
"I am talking to him regularly, I talk to people who are in his group, his supporters, regularly, and I am constantly trying to work out ways that we can achieve similar outcomes."
He said independents had been "absolutely useless" when it came to trying to bring about water policy changes.
"There is only one group, one organisation, that is consistenly and continually challenging the Murray Darling Basin Authority and advocating for change."
Mr Drum said the National Party achieved significant changes in late 2018, when it was able to introduce a socio-economic test around the 450 gigalitres of environmental upwater.
"That was achieved by the National Party, in conjunction with the states.
Mallee Nationals MP Anne Webster has been contacted for comment.
Leading political commentator Monash University's Nick Economou said the decisoin had been made a long way out from the next election.
He was sceptical about Mr Brooks' chances.
'If history is any guide, it's unlikely anyone not in the party system with succeed," he said.
"It's really hard for independents to win seats, especially Federal seats, the candidate has to rely on local popularity."
There was prima-facie evidence in Victoria voters were prepared to buck the party system, electing Mildura independent MP's Ali Cupper and Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed at the last state election.
'But it's very difficult, it's a big ask," Dr Economou said.
."He's going to be leading a minor party, and - given the weight of history, minor parties don't succeed."
The number of candidates running, such as in the seat of Mallee at last year's election, also had a bearing.
"We don't know how many are going to run and what they are going to do with preferences," Dr Economou said.
"It's really hard for minor parties to break the stranglehold major parties have in seats like that.
"It's very hard to change people's voting behaviours, they do remain loyal, in all but the most extreme circumstances.
"The National Party might be bad, but in the eyes of those voters, what is the alternative?"
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