Watering down the Murray Darling plan would be fatal
Many of us learnt at school that the great Nile River sustained Egypt through floods that nourished the fertility of the river’s floodplain.
Our Murray and Darling Rivers are no different.
It’s in Australia’s national interest to protect and restore the Murray Darling Basin. Disconnect the river from the floodplain and you destroy the fertility of the land.
The huge stands of dead red gum and black box trees shadowing the lower reaches of the river are symbols of lost fertility.
The river is the lifeblood of the land and our nation.
The outcome we all desire, and the benchmark for a good Plan, has to be a river that is not being poisoned by salt, that flows, and lives.
Anything less threatens the future of the river and regional communities.
A plan falling short fails of these outcomes fails our shared national interest in protecting the nation’s lifeblood.
Alan Carthew is a houseboat operator at Renmark. He told ABC radio the “river is the lifeblood for a lot of people and through here, there’s irrigation, all the tourism and the activities on the river… it’s important to a lot of people.”
Sadly the Basin Authority seems to be developing a plan based on what was possible in the past, not what’s needed by the river and the economy it sustains into the future.
Water Minister Tony Burke should send such a plan back to the Authority and instruct it to prepare a one that will return enough water to give the lower Murray a good chance of returning to health and detail how this can be achieved over the next decade.
The Minister could also set up an independent scientific panel to assess the plan and get them to respond to a simple question: Does the plan give Australia a good chance of a healthy river system or does it not?
Tony Burke should also require the Authority to include options for overcoming real and imagined constraints the Authority claims makes it impossible to give South Australians a healthy Murray River.
Rivers die from the bottom up. South Australian communities will be hardest hit if the government fails to deliver a strong plan.
David Peake is an irrigator at Mannum. He says the lack of flows during the last drought “absolutely devastated [the] town and the community spirit” in Blanchetown below lock 1.
He doesn’t think the 2800 gigalitre figure that’s been shopped around by the Basin Authority is enough to bring back that spirit.
In the next few weeks we’ll hear a lot about the chance to review the Basin Plan in 2015 if the amount of water being returned to the river is enough.
Again, David Peake says “to start low and with the powerful lobby groups that we irrigators have got, there is no way known that the water is ever going to be returned in a greater volume in 2015’‘.
Material the Authority used to brief ACF said the review in 2015 “may mean that the 1700 GL/y proposed for recovery can be reduced significantly perhaps in the order of hundreds of gigalitres”.
It’s time South Australian members of the federal parliament decided if they’re going accept such a plan or fight for the Murray.
History shows it’s in wet years governments decided to hand out more water to irrigation industries and increase the size of dams to hold back bigger and bigger amounts of water the very same water that is needed to keep floodplains alive.
The irony of the recent good rains is Water Minister Tony Burke and his colleagues are now under intense pressure from the irrigation lobby to on one hand weaken the plan, and on the other keep handing out the $10 billion set aside to fix the Murray Darling.
The lobbyists tell us a healthy Murray will threaten food security, even though Australia exports 60 per cent of its agricultural products. And no-one eats cotton.
There are big powerful commercial interests keen to maintain the status quo. The problem is, the status quo will destroy the lower Murray.
Twynams Agricultural Group is one of Australia’s big rice and cotton growers. Its owner recently funded an advertising campaign trying to convince Australians that what they needed was to remove the barrages at the Murray mouth, not seek more flows down the river.
Tony Burke should remember the purpose of the plan isn’t to create a giant ATM for irrigation lobby groups and their backers.
It’s the national interest that needs to be protected.
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