We enrich the present by impoverishing the future.

Talk about killing your darlings.
Our habitual Australia Day flags-and-dates furore tells more
about our insecurities than we’d like.

Easy solutions to both dilemmas present themselves.
Lose the day. Don’t change the date, dump it.

We hardly need another holiday so soon after the Weeks-of-the-Long-Hammock and if (as we profess) it’s love for our country we could start by, well, loving the country. Then choose the flag that shows our country not our colonisers.


I’m fascinated that a nation so blessed by nature should treat her so badly, like the man who marries the loveliest girl in town then demonstrates his prowess by beating her to a pulp. This colonial attitude of triumph-by-domination is everywhere – most dramatically, just now, in the Darling River fish massacre. Although intended to exonerate, the cotton industry’s passive-aggressive response – “[we are] not responsible . . . and we are here to stay” – eerily conjured the red-faced bloke in the doorway rebuffing neighbours’ concerns over the sounds of violence. “Nothing’s bloody wrong, youse can all bugger off.”

The fish deaths, and our apparent determination to bring the mighty Darling to its knees, are not an isolated instance of greed, corruption or incompetence. It’s not one rotten apple. It is an entire attitudinal orchard – systemic, cultural and enduring.

Designed to enrich the few by impoverishing the many and enrich the present by impoverishing the future, it’s a system that is arrogant, selfish and childish. In a word, it’s theft. It’s the same attitude that made farmer Ian Turnbull shoot compliance officer Glen Turner dead for attempting to enforce a tree-clearing ban. It’s what enabled Tony Abbott to deploy God’s injunction to “subdue the earth and all god’s creatures” to justify ongoing use of coal-powered steel and aluminium.

It’s what impelled then water minister Barnaby Joyce, five years into the supposed implementation of the Murray-Darling Plan, to pretend concern over water fraud while also telling irrigators “we’ve taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show”.

I get it. In the country, the sense of freedom to do what you want on your own turf is primary. But it’s also a dangerous illusion, as evidenced by just how far this testosterone-addled mindset has taken us from where we need to be. It’s no longer a few Waltzing Matilda larrikins.

Our love of Ned Kelly-type audacity is dandy when Ned is the underdog. But the egalitarian justification for lawlessness was always a lie and when lawlessness becomes orthodoxy, when the bushrangers are running the show, larrikinism becomes its opposite – feudalism. In our case, it’s feudalism of an especially hypocritical kind, where fauxegalitarianism cloaks corporate theft on a mind-boggling scale.

Much of this is about scale. (White) Australian culture has always been speculative and exploitative, it’s true, but at first, smallness made it relatively benign. Just as Sydney used to be a cluster of spec-built housing projects but is now in danger of being destroyed by unfettered mega-developments, so the Darling River was once lined with small graziers, irrigators and residents (including 30,000 years of Barkindji people), all drawing water and sustenance. Now a few corporate giants have gobbled the lot, reducing the river to a puddle.

The driver is greed but, of course, greed drives capitalism. Normally what civilises that greed – growing gluttonous toddlers into decent adults – is government. That’s what we don’t have. Pass the buck as they will, the destruction of the Darling, like the destruction of Sydney, is an outright and abject failure of government.

Did I say failure? That’s too

mild. Call it betrayal.

If you saw the ABC’s Four Corners revelations in ‘‘Pumped’’ in 2017, you’ve heard NSW’s then-top water official Gavin Hanlon offer to leak classified documents to friendly irrigation lobbyists. You’re probably conscious of massive, enduring and deliberate water theft by upstream irrigators, filling their vast storage tanks with illegal water (and sometimes even selling it back to downstream farmers for a profit) while the river runs dry.

You may also know of more recent $20 million fraud charges against executives of a Goondiwindi cotton operation.

What you may not understand is just how far government has connived to privilege corporate interests over public and environmental ones.

At first sight the new 270km Broken Hill pipeline, completed last October to bring water from the Murray at a cost of $1.7 million per kilometre, makes no sense. Why do it, given the opposition from almost everyone including Broken Hill Council and farmers as well as environmentalists and scientists, and given that the existing, far shorter pipeline from Menindee is working just fine?

Working fine, that is, except when the government drains the lakes.

The government wants to ensure the lakes, now less than 5 per cent full, stay below 20 per cent. Why?

When the lakes are full, evaporation is 425 gigalitres a year, so reducing levels to almost nothing makes an on-paper saving of that quantum.

Never mind that the lakes are rarely full or that most of the water so released heads to irrigation farms to spread over an area half as big again where evaporation may be even greater.

NSW is 345GL short on its Murray-Darling Basin Plan obligation to deliver 1312GL a year back to the river. The lake-draining “saving” nicely covers this shortfall so they needn’t reduce flow to irrigators.

Meanwhile, farmers in Louth, NSW on the banks of the Darling cannot wash.

Is it a coincidence that the 2016-17 release of almost two Sydney Harbours (819GL) from the Menindee Lakes, with only 11 per cent of it heading to the river, preceded two boom years for cotton while NSW suffered excruciating drought?

Is it a coincidence that the new pipeline heads past two new mining projects?

A recent study completed for WWF sought to determine the threat posed by irrigated farming to the environment in selected river basins of high importance for biodiversity. The study identified a range of well-known agricultural products as the ‘thirstiest’ water users in these basins as in Table B.

A country’s flag symbolises how it sees itself and wishes to be seen by others. Changing ours from a stamp of imperialist dominion to an embodiment of our relationships with ourselves and our land might be just the jolt we need to open our eyes in time.

Yet in NSW Over the past 20 months, ‘‘the almost straight-line decline [in dam levels] is even more severe than the millennium drought’’, Davies says. ‘‘We’ve never seen anything like it.’’

Inflows in Sydney’s dams were 143 billion litres in 2018, compared with usage of about 587 billion litres, according to WaterNSW and Sydney Water. Those inflows were barely above the record-low of 136 billion litres in 1944, and a fraction of the long-run average of 1396 billion litres.

In a bit to alleviate voter backlash the NSW Government has recommissioned the Water Desalination platWhen it last operated – between mid-2010 and June 2012 – the plant supplied about 158 billion litres of drinking water. At full tilt, it can produce 91 billion litres a year.

Bye-bye Darling.

 

 

This article by Elizabeth Farrelly appeared in the SMH

The ombudsman’s November 2017 water investigation progress report highlighted almost 20 occasions over two decades when the responsibility for managing ground and surface water resources was moved from one government agency to another.

The drought is the cause of the water scarcity!

NSW Cotton farm with lake of “harvested water”

Water theft

A cotton farmer has pleaded guilty to illegally pumping water from the Murray-Darling Basin, after he was charged following an ABC Four Corners investigation.

Key points:

  • The charges came after an ABC Four Corners report into water theft
  • Anthony Barlow’s property is near the Queensland border
  • Court proceedings against Mr Barlow’s parents have been dropped

Anthony Barlow’s hearing in the Land and Environment Court started in Sydney today, where the cotton grower backflipped on an earlier decision to fight the charges.

He was charged with pumping water while metering equipment was not working and pumping water during an embargo in northern NSW.

It is not us

Cotton Australia is working to a whole-of-irrigation-industry response plan. As this is an issue facing all irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin, the public response is being led by Steve Whan of the National Irrigators’ Council, and he is ably filling this role.
However, Cotton Australia’s policy team is working diligently behind the scenes to help keep the Murray Darling Basin Plan process on track.

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  • The reality is there is a plan to manage water flows in the Murray Darling Basin to ensure the river stays as healthy as possible and that irrigators are also largely satisfied. The plan obviously needs to be constantly reviewed to take into account actual and forecast rainfall and tweaked, relaxed and tightened as needs dictate
  • This has clearly not happened.
  • Irrigators drained the water from the Menindee Lakes leading to a toxic algae bloom and the massive fish kill.
  • The dead fish may stink, but the stench of Coalition Government corruption at both the NSW state and federal levels is even worse. It deserves a Royal Commission.The Murray-Darling Basin is experiencing its seventh-driest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
  • The Australia Institute said its research has shown that the Lower Darling and Menindee Lakes had been mismanaged by many over a long period of time.
  • “Approximately two Sydney Harbours worth of water has been taken out of the region in the last two years,” said research director, Rod Campbell.
  • The Murray-Darling Basin Authority shelved its native fish strategy six years ago and ended its sustainable rivers audit program after New South Wales pulled funding.
  • Plan called for 50-year commitment to restoring native fish numbers, but was canned after NSW pulled funding
  • The Murray Darling Basin Authority shelved its native fish strategy six years ago and ended its sustainable rivers audit program after New South Wales pulled 60% of its funding from a basinwide program to monitor the health of fish in the river.
  • For 10 years the MDBA made much of its fish strategy, releasing a glossy brochure that claimed the strategy required a “sustained commitment” of 50 years in order to rehabilitate native fish in the river. It announced a goal of “restoring native fish stocks to 60% of its pre-European levels.”

Barnaby Joyce wrote in the Australian that it was “implausible and mischievous” to blame cotton-growers for fish deaths because cotton-growers such as Cubbie Station had not taken water from the river since 2017. Joyce asserts that there are billions of dollars worth of water in the Commonwealth Water Holder’s accounts,” Mr Joyce told ABC’s Radio National on Tuesday. “If we diverted a section of it, we could start growing the fodder [such as lucerne] that is required to keep the stock alive.” https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/death-certificate-ex-water-chief-slams-barnaby-joyce-s-drought-plan-20180828-p500an.html

“Barnaby Joyce’s assumption that the water will be used to grow lucerne only works if the lucerne was planted back in April, otherwise it won’t be there,” he said. “The most likely outcome will be that water at a high price will be purchased by those growing high-value crops like cotton or almonds.

The 2017 Australian almond crop will be the largest on record.

 

  • The 2017 Australian almond crop will be the largest on record.

The nations production of almonds is expected to reach 85,000 tonnes next year, and with thousands of new trees being planted the industry’s peak body expects the record will not stand for long.

The Almond Board of Australia said with the amount of new orchards coming in to production the national yield should be around 135,000 tonnes by 2025.

CEO Ross Skinner said there should not be any difficulty in finding markets for the additional nuts produced over the next decade.
“There will be an increase from last year’s crop of approximately 5,000 tonnes and 3,000 tonnes more than the 2015 crop,” he said.
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