As the New South Wales state election draws ever nearer, rural issues are set to be at the heart of the debate to choose the next member for the seat of Barwon on March 23.
This sprawling electoral district covers 356,000sq.kms., about 44 per cent of the state, and the escalating campaign to woo voters will focus on topics paramount to the area’s wellbeing.
With drought, water management and fish kills all key elements, Gladys Berejiklian’s coalition government has vowed to embark on a plan to extend the NSW Border Wild Dog Exclusion Fence if they’re returned to power.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro formally delivered the news at a meeting near Silverton, saying wild dogs were the cause of “significant emotional stress and anxiety, putting in danger the future of livestock and farms”.
If the Berejiklian Liberal/Nationals alliance holds on to its mandate it will push ahead with a $37.5 million project to extend the Wild Dog Exclusion Fence on two fronts. Over a two-year period the fence will be pushed 420km east to Mungindi on the Queensland border with NSW, at the same time an additional 322km would be covered by stretching the structure south to where the River Murray crosses into South Australia.
In the wake of this announcement, Labor has also come to the party. In an interview on ABC Radio, Labor’s Mick Veitch, Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Western NSW, pledged that if the current state government says the money is available to upgrade the fence, Labor would match it dollar for dollar if elected.
Current Barwon MP is The National’s Kevin Humphries who is standing down, and taking up the fight will be Andrew Schier. A winning margin of 12.9 per cent last time suggests the new candidate could be well placed, but with the ravages of the drought severely affecting farmers’ livelihoods, disgruntled voters could be tempted to look to Labour or the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Party.
Standing for the latter is Roy Butler who said: “While we welcome the announcement, we are a touch sceptical on its timing, coming three weeks out from the election. Of course we’re supportive but I feel it’s a bit light on - we would have preferred to see a broader approach including trapping, baiting and shooting.”
A firm commitment to contain the roving spectre of wild dogs and protect livestock from attack would be a welcome tonic. Urban voters are largely unaware of the painful agricultural predicament but landowners in the unforgiving landscape of Barwon know the effects only too well. It’s estimated the nation’s farming industry loses $89 million a year due to cattle, sheep, goats and other animals being taken by wild dogs.
The concept of an exclusion fence does have some doubters but the idea also has merit. If the fence serves to halt the long-distance migrations of wild dogs it means they can be restricted to a certain area and dealt with in that confined space.
The constant threat of wild dogs was highlighted in an article in the first edition of Great Australian Outdoors when National Wild Dog Management Coordinator Greg Mifsud spoke about the work being done to combat them. Mr Mifsud cited details of the National Wild Dog Action Plan, which had a broad platform centred around a communal drive to ease the economic hardships being endured by farmers brought on by wild dogs in the bush.
If the NSW Border Wild Dog Exclusion Fence extension is implemented, it could become another component in the broader operation to curb a pastoral plague.