SUSSAN Ley and Kevin Mack found common ground on one issue _ water _ as the battle for Farrer stepped into overdrive on Friday.
Both pushed the pursuit of fairer water entitlements to the forefront, but quickly diverged on who was best placed to exert the required pressure to remedy the problem which has reached crisis point in the Deniliquin-Finley areas.
The general security water allocation for NSW farmers in the Murray region was currently zero per cent and late last year led to one of Deniliquin's major employers, SunRice, shedding 100 jobs at the town's rice mill and another at Leeton.
The drought is the root cause of the problems, but desperate farming communities are still looking to Ms Ley and Mr Mack for answers in desperate times.
Mr Mack has some muscle in his corner through Voices for Farrer, which includes well-known farming figures Chris Brooks, Geoff Moar, Mark Van Beek, Graeme Pyle and Vicki Meyer.
“Without water we don’t get productivity and without productivity we don’t get money and without money you don’t see towns flourishing," Mr Mack said.
“Albury has leveraged off the back of the rural economy for 100 years.
“In the next couple of years the impacts of this drought and impacts of lack of water allocations will impact on small businesses and businesses in Albury."
But asked how an independent MP could stir the bureaucrats in charge of water into action when a member of the government couldn't, Mr Mack said: “A sitting member is bound by policy and decision making of their party.
“An independent isn’t and the crossbenches of the federal parliament and the state parliament are making significant inroads into both sides of the house and understanding what the needs of the community are."
Ms Ley knows farmers are struggling, but denies she has been sitting on her hands as claimed by her political rival.
"Water has always been one of the biggest issues for me, and it remains that," she said.
"The pain and the angst that my communities are feeling in the current drought, with low water allocations is heartbreaking and I have felt that pain with them."
Last year she unsuccessfully attempted to have water stored in places such as Lake Hume for environmental purposes released to NSW farmers to allow them to finish winter crops.
But the biggest alarm bell for Ms Ley came in parliament this week when Labor announced it would oppose the government's $5 billion drought package.
Instead, Labor plans to bankroll drought measures through economic reforms such as negative gearing rule changes.
And the crossbench, she says, will be cheering a Labor government on.
“I saw Labor trash the Murray Darling Basin plan by getting rid of the cap on buybacks," she said.
“It means a future Labor government can march onto your farm when you are stressed and you are struggling and make you sell your water, your greatest asset.
“Every vote for an independent makes it more likely Australia will have a Bill Shorten-led government.
"When I walk into the parliament the Liberal and National parties sit on the left hand side, on the right hand side sits Labor and the crossbench.
"The independents are in opposition to us.
“Be careful what you might wish for because that result, particularly in the Murray Darling Basin, would be devastating."
The present drought is the second of its type since Ms Ley became the member for Farrer.
When the 2010 election rolled around, the the rice growing areas were again struggling and an independent candidate from Deniliquin, Louise Burge, rattled some cages within Coalition ranks to the point where outgoing former foreign minister Julie Bishop was sent to Deniliquin with Ms Ley to help calm the waters.
In the safe conservative seat presently held on a margin of 20 per cent by Ms Ley, the 2010 independent polled 8357 votes or nearly 12 per cent.
The previous best result by an independent was Ray Brooks, who polled 5977 votes in 1987.
Nearly a decade on from Ms Burge, Voices for Farrer is making an even bigger play.
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