‘Grow some spine’: Furious farmers lash Deputy PM over drought

Farmers at the Convoy to Canberra protest at Parliament House on Monday.

Farmers at the Convoy to Canberra protest at Parliament House on Monday. Photo: AAP

Furious farmers have berated Deputy PM Michael McCormack in Canberra, accusing him of doing too little to support his farming constituents.

“Show some passion. Where’s your passion?” one farmer, named by The Australian as John Russell from Kyabram, demanded of the Nationals leader in an early face-off on Tuesday.

Mr Russell is among NSW and Victorian farmers in Canberra for a second day of protest at the government’s handling of the water crisis. They are calling for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be dumped.

Organisers said there were more than 2000 people at the Convoy to Canberra demonstration in front of Parliament House – and 110 trucks.

“You could walk up there tomorrow and tell the Liberal Party ‘we’re crossing the floor’ unless they do something. The National Party is not going to exist after the next election unless you grow some spine and stand up,” Mr Russell said.

“I haven’t seen any passion from you. You’re like a poker player. Get up there and say ‘this is not f—ing good enough – get angry!

Mr McCormack responded: “I’m pretty passionate, don’t worry about that.”

But Mr Russell said the Nationals leader wasn’t showing enough support for farmers.

“You’re useless. Barnaby [Joyce] was the only bloke who came down here yesterday. He had some spine,” he said.

The confrontation came early on Tuesday after the Nationals leader went out to greet the convoy.

The group had also protested on Monday – before heading into parliament, where one man was swiftly ejected from the public gallery of the Senate after lobbing a barrage of abuse at Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie. Others launching more verbal volleys toward government senators before storming out of the chamber.

On Tuesday, Mr Russell told the Deputy PM the drought was no excuse for the water crisis facing many farmers.

“Don’t give us that bulls–t. We’ve lived with that for all our life. We know what rain is, and we know what irrigation water is,” he said.

“But when it rains, there’s always more water,” Mr McCormack said.

“Yes we understand that. No, that bulls–t doesn’t wash,” Mr Russell said.

The pair also argued about water buybacks – with Mr Russell saying they should never have happened.

“I appreciate that. We weren’t in government when that happened,” Mr McCormack said.

On Monday night, Convoy to Canberra protesters met Water Minister David Littleproud and Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

Later on Tuesday, the Morrison government ordered an investigation into the operation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to report in March next year.

Mr Littleproud said he had listened to the concerns of farmers.

Alson on Tuesday, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Water Minister Melinda Pavey demanded changes to plan. Mr Barilaro repeated his threat to walk away from the basin plan, saying NSW had no more water to give and could not stand by it in its current form.

A co-organiser of Convoy to Canberra, Barooga farmer Carly Marriott, said the basin plan had devastated her community.

“This is affecting every single person in our community, and we might not be the majority but God we’re important. And you need us,” she told the ABC.

The man responsible for implementing the plan acknowledges it is causing significant economic pain to some farmers.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde said there was no one the drought hadn’t touched, with bushfires, water shortages and native animals feeling the brunt.

“Pausing or ditching the Basin Plan wouldn’t turn the taps or pumps on – and it wouldn’t alleviate the pain being felt in these communities during drought,” he said.

“In these times, remaining committed to restoring the health of the basin is important. When times are tough, available water is stretched and everyone wants more.”

-with agencies

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