WATER threatens to be one of the deciding factors in the race for Riverina.There were several feisty exchanges during last night's candidate forum at the Civic Theatre with water rights and the perceived lack of respect for farmers' needs a major issue.The topic produced the most animated debate of the night, with heated exchanges between Coalition partners Andrew Negline and Michael McCormack.The Greens' David Fletcher summed up the majority view that farming and agriculture needed to be given preference in the allocation of water."While the Greens believe in returning water to the environment, I am of the opinion it should not be done at the cost of farmers' livelihoods," he said.Mr McCormack was perhaps the most vocal."The sustainable diversion levels are just another word for theft ... irrigators are terrified of what upcoming reports will recommend, such as a 65 per cent cut in allocations to the MIA," he said."At the moment people in the city are using water as political expediency but we need to protect those people whose towns were built on irrigation and agriculture."Mr McCormack said it would be dangerous to have a Murray-Darling Basin referendum as people in Perth or Darwin should not have a say.However, it brought about a clash with Mr Negline who said Queensland's Senator Barnaby Joyce had first raised the idea, to which Mr McCormack replied it had then been pushed by Liberal leader Tony Abbott.Mr Negline said the Water Act needed "to be picked up and shaken" by a government that would listen to the people who use the resource.Meanwhile, Robyn Hakelis for Labor was more circumspect, saying water should not be used as a political football and was being adequately dealt with by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority.One Nation candidate Craig Hesketh proposed water be diverted from the north of Australia to the southern regions to improve food production while Liberal Democrat Tim Quilty said farmers should own the water.
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