By Roy Butler and Helen Dalton
Last year, National Party Agriculture minister David Littleproud proudly announced farmers who don’t meet animal welfare obligations would face stricter 10-year jail terms.
So, when can we prosecute the politicians responsible for one million fish killed this week?
The toxic blue-green algae outbreak in the Mendinee Lakes is just one example of gross government mismanagement poisoning river systems across regional NSW.
Walgett residents celebrated the New Year with brown tap water. The NSW Riverina has become the motor neurone disease hotspot of NSW, with surging disease rates linked to high levels of toxic algae in lakes.
Many towns across the bush are buying expensive bottled water because their tap water is of such poor quality.
Why did they drain Menindee?
Government and Sydney media have done a good job blaming the drought, and farmers, for the latest Menindee Lakes tragedy.
But it’s clear to us federal and NSW government decisions to drain the lake for so-called enviornmental purposes caused the crisis.
In 2016, the Menindee lakes were full and overflowing. There was enough water to last six years. But then, the federal government’s Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) ramped up their draining of the lakes.
By late-2017, as drought began to bite, Menindee dropped to 40 per cent capacity. The locals knew the big dry was set to continue, so begged the MDBA to stop releasing their water.
But the MDBA completely ignored them, and flushed another 70 billion litres of water down to man-made lakes in South Australia.
On 2GB radio this week, NSW National Party Water Minister Niall Blair all but blamed the Menindee crisis on the federal government draining of the lakes.
What he didn’t tell listeners is the NSW Government also extracted so-called enviornmental water from Menindee. They also did nothing to stop the MDBA mass draining.
If the feds and state hadn’t drained so much water away, they’d be enough available now to flush the river.
This would create the fast movement of water needed to prevent the deadly algae from blooming.
NSW Minister for Water Niall Blair is on the Darling River at Menindee to see the one million dead fish that have washed up on the banks of the Darling river.He just came past the spot water activists and locals gathered to meet him.
Posted by 999 ABC Broken Hill on Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Farmers not to blame
Surprisingly, people have let governments off the hook for this tragedy. Most people seem to want to blame irrigators.
“Stop farming cotton or rice or some other crop on such a dry continent” is a sentiment echoed widely across social media.
We need to remember governments are the ones who decide who takes water from the river, and how much they can take.
Certainly, there are legitimate questions to be asked about the way the state and federal governments regulate irrigated agricultural production across the nation.
Have governments allowed foreign companies to buy too much land and engage in too much production?
Are big companies [who donate to the National Party] getting easier access to irrigated water than smaller family-based farmers?
Is the water trading system being exploited by those who have little interest in producing crops?
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party wants answers to all these questions. We fully support a federal royal commission into all aspects of the Murray Darling Basin system and how it operates.
But irrigation is not the primary cause of the current crisis.
Murray Darling Basin water available to irrigators has been severley restricted over the past two years — water allocation rates are at all time lows. The price of water is very high and unaffordable to many farmers.
The amount of water irrigators take from the river is miniscule compared to what’s being flushed to South Australia for so-called enviornmental purposes.
This is a man-made government disaster brought to you by your representatives in the National and Liberal parties.
If this were happening in Sydney
Imagine if dead fish were washing up on the shores of Bondi Beach. If Manly residents suffered motor neurone disease rates three times higher than the national average. If Newtown hipsters had brown water coming out of their taps.
It’s hard to imagine, because it would never happen. The state government would never allow it to happen.
But with all this happening across the bush, National Party water minister Niall Blair wouldn’t even chat and listen to residents in Menindee this week. He rode straight past them in his speed boat.
This is why regional NSW must make a stand at the election in March. The government doesn’t want change. They don’t even want to listen.
It’s time we sped past the all the major parties at the ballot box.
Roy Butler is the SFF candidate for Barwon. Helen Dalton is the SFF candidate for Murray.