Greens gain ground in forgotten field
The Greens are breaking into Nationals territory, finding friends among farmers who say they are being ignored.
Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale has visited Broken Hill in far west New South Wales, listening to local concerns about water management.
Farmers' livelihoods are put at risk by a range of conditions, including the encroachment of mining and other heavy industry on traditionally agricultural lands.
Coal seam gas extraction and other resource activities put big strains on farmers around the country, reducing the availability of water for farming, and some say putting that water at risk of contamination.
Additionally, many Nationals supporters see their party as being subordinate to the Liberal party, and as threats from things like climate change and fossil fuel extraction continue to grow, they find themselves agreeing more and more with the Greens.
For Broken Hill, the main concern is the apparent over-allocation of water upstream.
Broken Hill has been a Labor city in a National Party electorate, but that may change.
A significant number of attendees said they would now support the Greens.
The community forum heard complaints that upstream irrigators are over-extracting water from the Darling River system, leaving the Meninde Lakes (which supply Broken Hill) almost dry.
The Darling River Action Group has slammed all sides of politics over the way the river system has been managed.
But Mr Di Natale has become one of the first to find a warm reception, for saying the Darling River was over-allocated.
Broken Hill local Barry Stone told reporters that his opinions were changing.
“I've been a Labor voter all my life and I think it's time for a change,” he told the ABC.
“They're not listening to the people.
“I'm prepared to go Greens or any independent there is [and] I'll stay right away from Labor and the Liberals.”
Broken Hill resident Evelyn Kennedy said she had just joined the Greens.
“[The party] is a growing strength,” she said.
“As soon as the election is over, assuming that they get into a position where the senators have a balance of power, then we'll hopefully see something done here.”
Audience member Karrie Lannstrom was impressed the Greens were focusing on the bush.
“I'm impressed that they're relating to what is traditionally not a Green area,” Ms Lannstrom said.
“They're getting a lot more support than what they used to.”
The Nationals MP for Parkes, Mark Coulton, has written to the Prime Minister about the concerns already.
But when asked about it in recent days, he said he did not expect a comprehensive answer soon.
The Labor candidate for Parkes, Kate Stewart, said the ALP had no specific policy for the management of the Murray-Darling Basin and the Darling River, but that she was keen for consultation with community members.