John Brumby and Rosemary McKenzie: "Not fair political play". PICTURE: WAYNE TAYLOR Photo: Wayne Taylor
THE Premier's wife, Rosemary McKenzie, has made an emotional plea for protesters to respect her family's privacy after demonstrators threatened to march on to the Brumby farm near Bendigo yesterday.
In a rare public statement, Ms McKenzie said the threat directly affected "my right to peaceful enjoyment of my property" and marked a new low in public debate in Victoria.
"Our farming property is managed and largely worked by me. I'm at the property several times a week, often alone," she said in a statement issued by Mr Brumby.
"(The protesters' threat) means that henceforth, the private spaces of politicians - their homes, their gardens, their farms, the places they go with their families - will never be places of private sanctuary again.
"Anyone with a gripe with government will now have a precedent for taking their dissent to private spaces in a way that impinges directly and deeply on the lives of politicians' families."
About 40 protesters who oppose the Government's plans to pipe water to Melbourne from northern Victoria abandoned their threat to invade the Brumby farm after police said they would be arrested for trespass.
A clearly angry Mr Brumby condemned the protesters, accusing them of introducing "Third World" tactics to Victorian politics and intimidating his wife.
"She shouldn't have to put up with that," he said. "Our place now will never be the same."
Mr Brumby said his wife had no sleep on Tuesday night after hearing of the threat and had left Melbourne at 6am yesterday to move sheep on the farm because she feared for their safety.
"She doesn't want them being affected, harassed and molested by protesters," he said before the demonstrators abandoned their planned action.
"It is not fair political play. People can protest, they can express their views, they can write letters to the editor, they can do whatever they like.
"But if every time a government makes a decision and people don't like it they invade your property, that's Third World chaos."
He said his wife was not a public figure and would not be giving interviews about her distress, but he read her statement on 3AW.
The protesters, from the Plug the Pipe group, claim Government officials have been illegally entering properties along the pipeline's proposed route from Yea to Yarra Glen.
Protest leader Jan Beer told the group, meeting in the car park of Ravenswood's Junction Hotel, that although they had called off their action, the Premier now knew how affected landowners felt.
"If Mrs Brumby felt threatened, what does Mr Brumby think all these women and children and families feel?" she said.
The decision to abandon the protest plan divided the demonstrators.
Tony Murphy, a sheep farmer from near Rochester, said he wanted to go it alone.
"I want to make a citizens' arrest of Brumby on the grounds of theft," he said. "He is stealing water from the people of Victoria."
Stud cattle breeder Jim Veale, from Glenburn near Yea, said he had been assertive when representatives of the pipe builders repeatedly entered his farm last week. "The problem is we don't know whose authority they have to come onto our properties," he said.
"And in our case we are worried about bringing in disease."
Mr Brumby said governments going back more than 100 years had built infrastructure across the state, such as water, gas or electricity pipelines.
"At the end of the day, the state has got to develop, the state has got to go ahead, and there are long-established rules for these things," he said.
Liberal leader Ted Baillieu and acting Nationals leader Peter Walsh condemned the protesters' plans to "invade" the Premier's private property.
"The protesters have a case … we have shared the argument, but I certainly don't share the view that the Premier's property should be brought into it," Mr Baillieu said.
"Politicians' families and properties as far as I'm concerned are off limits."
But Mr Brumby said key figures in the Plug the Pipe group had strong connections with the Liberals and Nationals.
One protest leader, Mike Dalmau, was a "failed Liberal candidate".
Another, Wade Northausen, was a "former prominent member of the Young Nationals".
"The fact is these people get encouragement, they get support," Mr Brumby said. "This is a political show."
Mr Brumby has previously accused Plug the Pipe leaders of telling lies about the Government's water plans, and cabinet ministers have labelled them "ugly, ugly people" who advocate "quasi-terrorist tactics".
The pipeline is part of the Government's multibillion-dollar plan to improve irrigation works in northern Victoria. It says upgrading the ageing and leaking Goulburn irrigation system will save 225 gigalitres of water a year, which will be shared equally between irrigators, the river system and Melbourne consumers.
Mr Brumby said yesterday's protest had not swayed his determination to build the pipeline.
"This is a project that Victoria needs," he said. "We've got to get on with it and do it."
The protesters declaration that they would 'invade the premiers farm' is tantamount to a declaration of war, a statement that is obviously threatening. The protesters got it wrong and it is a symptom of their personalities that they would make such an announcement (if it was actually planned)
It could be that the protesters just wished to intimidate the premier or even less, just get his attention. Either way its backfired on the protesters and is an open invitation to the police to do what ever it takes to get rid of the pests.
Unfortunately, the protestors could have chosen to protest outside the farm and indicate quite clearly that they had no intention of harassing anyone.
The premier is a public official who is subject to demonstrations at almost anyplace he happens to be without trespassing on private property.
The message here is, if you wish to protest against a judge or judges their home street is open to protest but don't cross the fence.