The federal government has warned banks not to foreclose on loans to farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin as consultations are held in the threatened NSW town of Griffith.
At least eight irrigation towns would not survive proposed cuts in water usage for agriculture, the Australian Financial Review reports.
It says the banks told the Murray-Darling Basin Authority that the NSW towns of Griffith, Coleambally, Leeton, Deniliquin and Mooree; St George in Queensland; and Mildura and Robinvale in Victoria, were under threat.
More than 5000 people have reportedly gathered in Griffith as the authority holds its third day of consultations.
Water Minister Tony Burke warned the banks it was too early to make business decisions about their customers in irrigation communities.
“There is still some very serious consultation going on right now,” he told ABC Radio, adding he understood the strength of feeling coming from meetings in Shepparton and Deniliquin this week.
Key independent MP Tony Windsor, whose New England electorate falls within the Murray-Darling Basin, told The Australian he would push for alternatives to water buybacks.
This could include redirecting water into the Murray from areas of higher rainfall instead of seeking to take 3000 to 4000 gigalitres of water from irrigators.
Interviewed on ABC Radio, Mr Windsor said there was a reasonable chance the plan would not see the light of day during this term of parliament.
Other options needed to be examined if communities faced having to be disbanded.
“It’s got to be addressed very compassionately, and assessed valley by valley on the real impacts on real communities on real people rather than just blanket numbers in relation to entitlements and usage,” he said.
“If there’s communities that are really going to be impacted, and the possibility of dying … we’ve got to examine all of the options.”
In response, Mr Burke said he was prepared to listen to the MP’s views.
“Tony Windsor’s put a few on the table,” he said.
State Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli is hoping the Griffith meeting shows the government how devastating the plan will be for his Murrumbidgee electorate.
“You just can’t sit in Canberra, make these kinds of decisions with people’s lives and expect there to be no response and expect people even to be calm about it,” he told ABC Radio.
“People have invested their lives in their businesses and to see them threatened in this way… of course people are angry.”