Report brings opportunity

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

The recent release of a scientific report presents a ‘‘once in a lifetime’’ opportunity to rectify some political wrongs, according to the Speak Up Campaign.

Chair Shelley Scoullar said the revelations from Professor Peter Gell that South Australia’s Lower Lakes were an estuarine system comes as no surprise, as this has been highlighted numerous times in recent years.

However, to have it verified by an eminent scientist of Professor Gell’s standing is a ‘‘game changer’’, especially after it has been peer-reviewed and released publicly by the CSIRO.

‘‘Governments can no longer ignore this indisputable fact that we have an estuarine system, but for purely political reasons a Basin Plan was devised around false claims that it was a freshwater system.

‘‘What has been done is mischievous and has caused massive, unnecessary hardship to family farmers and rural communities. We cannot change the past, but we can fix the plan so it is better positioned to help us build a stronger, more sustainable future.’’

Mrs Scoullar said from the start of the Basin Plan process, communities were promised it would be flexible and adaptive, which was reiterated again only recently by MDBA CEO Phillip Glyde.

‘‘Now is the perfect time to introduce this flexibility. Speak Up believes Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Environment Minister Sussan Ley have been given a unique opportunity to lead a process of change.

‘‘They have cold, hard facts before them which show we do not need to be pouring huge quantities of water down the rivers to sustain a freshwater system. As Professor Gell has proven, it’s not a freshwater system at all; it’s traditionally estuarine.

‘‘So we must now alter the plan, which was developed under false scientific assumptions that we all know were designed to fit a political agenda. This needs to occur before there is any further damage to our world class food and fibre producers, and more importantly the environment which is being decimated by authorities who have tried to push too much water down a fragile system.

‘‘Former Prime Ministers John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull were unfortunately sold a furphy, which has led to all this damage at huge cost to Australian taxpayers.

‘‘Mr Morrison and Ms Ley, with the evidence at their disposal, have an opportunity to go down in history as leaders with the courage to save not only significant parts of the Basin environment, but also save a vital part of the nation’s food bowl.

‘‘They can return productivity to our regions and give our farmers the green light to again grow the clean, green food that is needed for Australia and others throughout the world.’’

Mrs Scoullar said an important step could be a Royal Commission into the Basin Plan, which prominent Australians including Kaye Hull, Bill Heffernan and Barnaby Joyce have all supported. Their concerns have been echoed by current state sitting members such as Deputy Premier of NSW John Barilaro, Member for Murray Helen Dalton and Member for Barwon Roy Butler who also have issues with the Basin Plan.

‘‘We implore Mr Morrison and Ms Ley to immediately take the corrective actions that are required to right the wrongs that have forced our communities to suffer so unnecessarily.

‘‘We have already provided them with a range of solutions and we are waiting — willing and able — to work with them so they can be put in place.’’

The findings of Prof Gell’s report, released by the CSIRO, is in stark contrast to a crucial 2009 report to the South Australian Government in which Adelaide researchers said: ‘‘There is no evidence in the 7000-year record of substantial marine incursions into Lake Alexandrina’’.

The report, which was not peer-reviewed, formed the foundation of the South Australian Government’s argument the lake must be kept fresh, which was eventually enshrined as a key objective of the 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan — to always keep salinity in the lake at less than 1500EC (seawater is about 50,000EC).

Mrs Scoullar said the latest evidence is further proof the government must take a different direction on the Basin Plan. She said it must be reviewed and fixed.