Updated: May 16, 2011
Let the Murray-Darling River flow
Historic opportunity to save the Murray Darling Basin from looking sick
The Murray-Darling Basin is the largest river system in Australia and it is under threat. From the Balonne River in Queensland it winds its way through New South Wales to join the Darling River in Victoria and flow on to the Coorong wetlands in South Australia.
Accounting for more than 39% of Australia’s gross agricultural production, the Murray-Darling Basin is the lifeblood of our country. It is also home to about half of Australia’s native fish species and the iconic River Red gum forests. Due to a combination of unsustainable water extraction and a record drought, the Murray-Darling is at risk of collapse.
In order to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health and ensure its prosperity for future generations, a significant amount of water needs to be returned to the system as permanent environmental flows. Right now, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan provides us with a historic opportunity to save this Australian river system.
Based on the science produced by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) themselves, the river system needs in the range of 7600 GL of flows per year in order to ensure a low risk of further degradation. The Authority is currently mooting amounts as low as 2000 GL, which is already deemed to be high risk by the MDBA's own science.
The Federal Government has put $10 billion on the table to save the Murray-Darling river system. This represents an historic opportunity to fix the problem once and for all. But 2,000GL is simply not enough and represents a pathetic return on investment for the taxpayers of Australia. By cooking the books with both the amount of water to be returned and what the $10 billion will be spent on, the Government is failing the taxpayer.
For the life of our rivers this is simply not good enough.
$10 billion is enough money to fix the Murray-Darling. The system needs a long term commitment for environmental flows. Both the Authority and the Federal Government need to commit to spending this money in a way that gives the best return to the river and to the communities’ dependent on them. The plan presently being considered will simply not achieve this and will only succeed in propping up inefficient irrigators and infrastructure of dubious value.
The Windsor inquiry has already heard that only 24% of irrigators are responsible for 70% of the produce. The amount of money the government is prepared to spend represents $1.5 million per irrigator in the basin. In times of fiscal prudence, no other industry or sector in Australia would be shown such largesse.
While this may be politically expedient in the short term, it will only last until the next inevitable drought when we will find ourselves back where we started, only with a significantly more degraded basin and $10 billion poorer. With only 2% of all rain that falls within the basin actually reaching the rivers, we do not have the margin of error that the Authority would like to gamble with.
It is clear that the Authority and the Government are bowing to pressure from vested interests and are ignoring the needs of other basin communities’ dependent on the river for their livelihoods and cultural needs. If the Authority and the Government were to proceed with acquiring the lowest possible amount of water to be returned to the system, they would be risking not only severely impacting the productivity of floodplain graziers but also opening themselves up to potential legal native title challenges. Returning 7600 GL to the basin would ameliorate these issues substantially.
Without sufficient flows through the entire system, the damage that has already been done to Ramsar listed wetlands such the Coorong will be irreversible. With the money the government has at its disposal to fix the problem, hair-brained schemes such as opening the Barrages and turning the mouth of the Murray-Darling into a salt-marsh should not even be under consideration.
The solution is simple, with $10 billion at its disposal, the government should have no difficulty in acquiring the 7600 GL required to avert Australia's greatest environmental disaster. By spending this money judiciously and transparently, it can help to create a robust and diverse rural economy that provides real employment and advancement opportunities for all Australians. The alternative, to spend this money on purchasing the absolutely smallest amount of water possible and splurging on ineffective and inefficient infrastructure would be one of the greatest wastes of public resources in Australian history and the squandering of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
$10,000,000,000 down the drain?
If the government cannot find the political will to use this money wisely and according to the best science then it would be better off spending it on social services and infrastructure that deliver real benefits to the Australian people, such as schools, hospitals, public transport and roads. For example, with this money, the government could build 400 primary schools or 55 regional hospitals. If the government is prepared to sacrifice the Murray-Darling, which is what the acquisition of a mere 2000 GL will do, then it should not waste the Australian taxpayer's money any further.
The Murray-Darling Basin belongs to us all. We will be working to give a voice back to our rivers that have spent years crying out for water. Let’s ensure that the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan secures a healthy future for this degraded and iconic river system.
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Sydney Inc
Postal address: PO Box K249 Haymarket, NSW, 1240
Suite 402, Level 4, 64-76 Kippax St,
Surry Hills, NSW, 2010
Phone: 02 9282 9553