"LEETON isn't for sale".
That was the catch cry from the large number of protestors at a rally in Leeton, where attendees vowed to hold firm on water buybacks, on Tuesday.
Around 600 people turned out for the event and all had one thing in common - that water buybacks will harm the Leeton shire community and beyond.
It wasn't just farmers who turned out, but business owners, staff members of one of Leeton's largest employers, SunRice, community leaders and more.
All with the goal in mind of keeping Leeton moving forward, something Leeton Shire Council mayor Tony Reneker believes won't happen if water buybacks are approved by the federal government under the Water Act amendment bill.
"Enough is enough ... Leeton shire has always supported the intent of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we do what to do the right thing by the environment and for future generations," councillor Reneker told the rally.
"Our Leeton and MIA farmers are to be applauded for using as little water as possible. Don't let anyone tell us we aren't making progress.
"Buybacks are the laziest and riskiest ways to recover water for the environment and can easily push communities like Leeton to a tipping point from which there is no return.
"These impacts will be felt both locally and nationally and they will be devastating."
Also among the speakers at the rally was Kate O'Callaghan from Southern Cotton and the Whitton Malt House, farmers Rob Houghton and Liz Stott, a SunRice delegate and perspective was also given from a now-Leeton resident who hails from the "big smoke".
All were unanimous in saying water buybacks could be the death knell of towns like Leeton and the government needed to stop and listen.
Mr Houghton told the group he wanted to be an irrigation farmer from age one, with the land in his blood.
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His family has been on the land for almost 90 years, having seen and been through plenty.
However, he said water buybacks could not be tolerated, saying the flow-on impacts would be devastating for not just farmers, but businesses and every person living in Leeton shire.
"Today is a great opportunity for us to raise our voices and tell the Prime Minister exactly what we think of this water buyback scheme," Mr Houghton said.
"I knew my place in the world very early in life. It was all through the enthusiasm of my family and people around me, the community that we see here today.
"Our family have been farming for nearly 90 years in the Leeton area. There has been so much progress (when it comes to water).
"Buybacks, if they come, they don't go away. The impacts of those buybacks will be here forever. If we lose out and the government do hear our voices ... our relevance, we will have stranded assets which will cost us. Environmental water managers need to do better with what they already have."
SunRice staff were out in huge numbers at the rally and were called to the front of the rally as an example of the real people whose future's will be at risk if buybacks go through.
One of the SunRice trucks also made its way past the rally several times, blaring its horn in support of the cause.
"We can't stand by and let this happen," councillor Reneker said.
"We insist the government stop taking the lazy option of buybacks, which will hurt basin communities."
The rally in Leeton was part of wider action across the region, with residents also gathering in huge numbers in Griffith and Deniliquin.
All three communities have sent a loud message to the government, but the question still remains, will their voices be heard?
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