Time has arrived for decisive action

By Riverine Herald

THE latest research from The Australia Institute highlights the need for immediate action on water management.

Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar asked what she believes is a simple question: “How long are we going to accept the present disastrous situation where our economy, our rural communities and our environment are all suffering?”

She said Speak Up wants to know: “When are governments going to stop pussy-footing around, acknowledge there have been some massive mistakes, and take the necessary remedial steps to fix them?”

It follows the release last week by The Australia Institute of research showing that the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) caused ecological harm and reduced water to irrigators when it caused floods at the Barmah choke and drained the Menindee Lakes.

‘‘While everyone else in the basin was dealing with drought, the MDBA created a flood and lost large volumes of water,’’ The Australia Institute senior water researcher Maryanne Slattery said.

‘‘The artificial flood from August to January was not for environmental purposes, in fact it caused environmental harm. The out of season flooding eroded banks and damaged the internationally significant Barmah-Millewa forest.

‘‘This comes on the back of the MDBA’s draining of Menindee Lakes, which contributed to the summer fish kills and to less water available for users.

‘‘The MDBA’s management decisions have denied NSW Murray farmers, that are on zero water allocation, possibly over a million megalitres of water, or up to 61 per cent of their licences.

‘‘This is not the drought, or the basin plan, it is the MDBA and the water market creating huge changes to the River Murray System.

‘‘New nut plantations backed by international investors are buying water away from industries, such as dairy, grain, fodder and rice.

‘‘We are letting the market decide the future of Australian agriculture and our basin communities. The only regulation on the market is what buyers are willing to pay and the new nut plantations have exceeded the physical capacity of the system.’’

Ms Scoullar said Speak Up was calling on governments to take swift and decisive action.

‘‘The first step must be finding a way to provide NSW Murray irrigators with an allocation when the irrigation season opens,’’ she said.

‘‘The present prediction is that they will remain on zero allocation, and that will cripple many farmers and severely impact rural communities.

‘‘We should not be sacrificial lambs for bureaucratic mistakes, and it is the responsibility of governments to fix them.

‘‘The second step is doing whatever is necessary to ensure what we have seen over the recent summer is never allowed to occur again,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.