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Monday, April 16, 2012

Murray Darling River system is a living organism

This private Submission was sent by my friend Brigid,  a long-term campaigner for the Murray River, and friend of the River peoples - the Aboriginal people of the Murray Darling Basin.

  • "Firstly, I wish to complain about the way the MDBA authority has handled both the first and second iterations of the debate on the plan for the Murray Darling Basin.  On both occasions, irrigation interests in NSW have done their level best to hijack the debate in an attempt to make their voice the dominant voice, if it can’t drown out others altogether.
  • "It is clear to me that no time during either process did the MDBA attempt to make the debate a national issue for a national icon requiring a truly national voice.  It actually took an Aboriginal man to draw attention to the need for a national voice.
  • "It took an elderly Aboriginal man, Uncle William Riley – a Maljangapa Elder – to put it succinctly in his poem: Let’s do it as a nation.

As I sit here tonight thinking,
How our country’s drying out,
I fully know the reason being,
This ten year man made drought.

They’ve dammed our upper tributaries,
To make it right for cotton,
While smaller farmers further down,
are totally forgotten.

Inland rivers have stopped flowing,
With our livestock being bogged,
We curse the upstate irrigators,
Where our water’s being hogged.

But just look at what it’s doing,
To our fauna and our flora,
We’re heading down the poor road,
And getting even poorer.

They’ve killed our lakes and wetlands,
that used to feed the Murray.
So if we’re going to fix this problem,
SAY let’s do it in a hurry.

But to get things really moving,
And stop further degradation,
We must all rise get off our butts,
And do it as a Nation.

  • "This was published in A yarn on the river: getting Aboriginal voices into the Basin Plan.  Again, though, not good enough MDBA.  This came very late in the already high-jacked debate.  I wonder how many Australians understand the concept of ‘cultural flows’ which Aboriginal voices have put forward in this debate?
  • "Urban voices were vilified by agricultural lobby groups as not knowing where their food came from; not living within the Basin, etc.  I do not live within the Basin ... at this time in my life.  I have lived within the Basin in two states for periods which constitute a good bit of my life – and in places which are major agricultural centres.  I now live in regional Victoria, not too far from the Murray and its southern catchment and, in addition, I regularly visit the area.
  • "Agricultural lobby groups harped on about the economies of the towns within the basin as if they were walled around and no urban visitors ever came into the Basin catchments.  People on the urbanised fringes of this continent contribute significantly to the economies of MDB communities – most particularly through regional tourism.  In the main, when people from the continental fringe visit the MDB and adjacent areas it is to enjoy the natural features of the areas some of which are national parks, forest reserves or some other form of gazetted area.  I have recently returned from just such a visit to the Murray region between Barmah and Moama-Echuca with 25 friends.  We contributed significantly in a number of ways to the communities in the area.  When people visit the MDB to enjoy its natural features, do they hope to see an environment which is not respected, not appropriately maintained, and which is thirsty for appropriate quantities of water?  Of course they don’t.
  • "Gone are the days when major towns within and adjacent to the MDB were reliant only on agricultural production and services in relation to that industry.  Large centres seek to have a mixed economies which are not dependent on one product, one interest, or one service.  Regional tourism is part of a mixed economy in regional Australia and is supported to a very great degree from people not connected with agriculture and who share environmental appreciation and understand the need for water to maintain the physical heritage of Australia. 
  • "The MDB has failed to seek a national voice, a national constituency for the Murray Darling Basin and, by this sin of omission, a national feature of great importance to this heritage may be placed in danger as vested and aggressive interests seek to dominate the limited conversation.
  • "I am not going into detail about water requirements since voices from science and the environmental lobby will speak more convincingly than I.  I just wish to state that I support significant quantities of water – much more than the agricultural lobby groups wish to support – aside for maintaining the heritage of ALL Australians.  I don’t want to see the Murray Darling Basin deprived of water.  I don’t want to see the Murray Darling Basin further degraded by neglect of natural features and physical uniqueness.
  • "I am pleased to see the unique arguments of Aboriginal Australians in relation to ‘cultural flows’.  However, I must point out my sadness that the First Nations had to resort to such a distinctive.  Their culture and spirituality recognises land and water as inseparable ... but the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) put paid to this idea two decades ago to enable the commodification of water and the establishment of a virtual stock exchange for one of life’s essential requirements.  Any gain for the land and catchments of our nation through water trading is illusory.  In no way can benefit be of universal long term value.  Short-sighted long term greed will wreck the system.
  • "Which brings me to the whole point of the exercise.  The MDBA was established to bring some sense into the mess that is the water take from the MDB through illegal and undeclared diversions, over-allocation, and general environmental neglect and degradation to which agriculture has been a major contributor.  Because there has been no attempt at true consensus and instead a cacophony of fractured voices, I am pessimistic that anything will be achieved after the events of the last few years.
  • "If a decision is made that does not satisfy agricultural lobby groups – they will go to the High Court.
  • If a decision is made that does not satisfy South Australia – it will go to the High Court.
  • If a decision is made that does not satisfy science and environmental organisations – perhaps they will find a pathway to the High Court too.
  • "As for voices like mine and like the First Nations of Australia, I doubt they will be heard beyond this currently closing date for submissions on the Plan.
  • "I think the voices of environmental neglect and degradation; the voices of greed, corruption and every corporation for itself; the voices of self-interest and short-term thinking will dominate.  I don’t think right or common sense will win out any more than we will settle this in the best possible way as a cohesive nation.
  • "It has been an effort to write this because I am so pessimistic, so sad for the land, the water and my nation.  You see, I believe that my view – which is shared by many others – will be blowing in the wind, unseen, unheard, unheeded.  However, I have made the effort if only for the sake of this view being placed on record somewhere, somehow."
  •  Brigid  


 My own personal Submission is also attached:

"I wish to lodge a very simple Submission.
It might be regarded as "simplistic" but that would be your mistake, not mine.

"In essence I support the views of the Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups. Their point and mine, is that the Murray-Darling River system in its entirety ought be regarded as a River, not a canal system.

"It is a living entity, composed of innumerable living organisms - insects, fish, plants, algae, birds.

"The approach advocated by the irrigators, especially the group known as "Murrumbidgee Irrigation", and the Victorian Dairy Industry people, notably "Murray Dairy", have lost perspective on the River systems which feed them, and upon which they rely.

"Yes, they rely on the River, but they are not the only ones.

People, plants, fish, trees, all count.
Except that only some of these organisms vote.

"Also, when considering the economic importance of these organisations, it is worth asking the extent to which they have been captured by foreign investors (especially in the Victorian case).

"My personal opinion is that the entire "consultation" process (phase one and phase two) has been completely botched.

"The Draft MDB Plan, as it currently stands is a "
compromise based upon a compromise".
  • The authority reported that the number being as high as 7,600 gigalitres per year would bring long-term sustainability and would be the best scenario for the ecosystems of the basin but "would not be socially or economically viable"
  • Source: Wikipedia   
"As far as I can tell the best science in this entire process was in the first evaluation of the environmental needs of the Basin.
That figure was, as I understand it, approximately 4000 GL.
But that was scrubbed, prior to the original "consultation" by the MDBA

"Then that organisation's Chairman resigned, in a hasty reaction to political insurrection caused by the Irrigators of the Murray-Goulburn system (at Shepparton, and the NSW Irrigators, at Griffith.

"As far as I am concerned, since the new Chairman of the MDBA was appointed, by his former political "mate", Minister Burke, things have gone from bad to worse.
  • The Draft Plan simply does not meet the requirements of the Water Act.
"Craig Knowles ought stand down as Chairman, for having failed his charter."

Denis Wilson 

I am now adding an additional comment from one of my water campaigning colleagues, someone closely associated with the Murray River.


I have forgotten to make comment about my disappointment in Mr Craig Knowles, who as we all read about in the news, continually disparaging the previous MDBA and its chair, and the Guide (the guide probably could have been called a rough draft, maybe that would have been clearer to people). It is obvious to me that Mr Knowles' appointment was a political appointment and there is a lack of independence, which is clearly evident in the immediate shrinking of the cap from 4,000GL to 2,750GL with a massive increase of 2,600GL in groundwater extraction limits. There were no other figures vigorously contemplated, either lower and especially not higher. This figure was arrived at before community consultation and without application of ESD or the Precautionary Principle or the principle of inter-generational equity.

Mr Knowles constantly calls the plan 'his' plan whereas I thought that this was 'our' plan, because we are to have input. It is so much better practice ( and definitely democratic) to encourage participation in decision-making because the resulting decision is always more accepted by those it actually impacts upon.

During the consultation in Mildura, our questions, which we felt were important, were lumped together in groups of 4-5 questions, instead of being answered fully and individually, allowing us further input if we felt they were not answered and they failed to ask of our questions were answered, as if didn't matter anyway. Rather than the microphone coming to us, as it did at the first MDBA's consultations, we had to line up in front of one or two mikes standing there waiting our turn, feeling very uncomfortable and exposed.  Our questions were flubbed and not fully answered. The meeting was run by a consulting firm, who though was nice, put us at arms length from the MDBA and we were constantly cut off and told to finish up because we had used up enough time. This was totally unlike the previous Authority, who allowed us the time to speak and actually gave us the impression that they actually cared about our concerns and they would take note of them in their deliberations. They never got the chance. Mr Burke hopped up and flicked answers at us, but without any scientific evidence or real effort to inform us. I did not understand why he sat up front if the MDBA is independent. Though he needs to hear what we have to say, we were directing our questions at the Authority who gets to write the Draft Plan.

The whole process has been flawed. We were not given the in depth information prior to the consultation sessions, that the Authority relied on to make their decisions on the SDLs or even the increase in groundwater take, as an example. We had about 2 hours, there was no power point showing the difference between what this Authority was saying, to what was set out in the Guide. It sounded like Mr Knowles and the Authority had thrown the Guide on the heap, because it offended people, instead of discussing it with an open mind and pointing put the difference to us and how it had been changed and why, with what impacts.

The consultation sessions were held during harvest time, when people were busy getting ready to pick their fruit, which meant that a lot of people simply were unable to attend. This was totally inconsiderate of an Authority that knew that we needed to know what they proposed, and the Authority needed  to hear what our concerns were. Very badly planned, very. Almost as if it allowed them to escape criticism with less people in attendance. This does not reflect that we do not care, it is about timing, venue, the belief that what we say can make a difference and that you will inform and you will be quiet and listen. This is democracy. I included a copy of the Aarhus Convention in my attachments and perhaps it is time that Australia became a signatory so that we, the people who live in a supposedly democratic country are encouraged and allowed to take part in decision- making and have access to information, all the information that decision-makers have before them and finally access to environmental justice. Until politicians, whether ex or present implement this Convention we do not have a true democracy. We are excluded from decision-making and access to information and environmental justice because it will be considered here on Australia as "red tape"!!!

I have absolutely no confidence in this Authority actually taking into account any new evidence or reading our submissions with a view to taking into account what we say. I have a feeling that this Basin plan will be weak and ineffectual, that it will penalize states who are endeavoring to do the right thing and reward others who have developers and mining companies and others who will bring in money for all levels of government to the detriment of all of us who live in the MDB and rely on its health.

Piping water kilometers away from rivers and floodplains and Groundwater sources means that that water will no longer filter back into the MDB system. Instead it will go into another basin and create other impacts there. Has the MDBA thought this one through. Like taking the water from the Goulburn River, a tributary to the Murray to Melbourne, which is totally out of the catchment. At least Adelaide is at the end of the system!

Mr Knowles has stamped his foot on this draft plan, and as an ex politician I am very concerned that he is not independent of government. He kept telling us all the wonderful things he did in government. This Plan will not save the Murray-Darling Basin.

Perhaps we can have another Chair who follows the Water Act's objectives without a hidden agenda, and works with the MDBA coming up with a Plan that, when implemented, achieves what the Water Act and the NWI wants, to bring back the MDB to a sustainable healthy extraction level, whilst considering social and economic interests as well.

Submission ends.

These 3 separate comments show just some of the impressions of just how bad the Murray Darling Basin Authority's Draft Plan really is.

But (probably) Craig Knowles will be out there from tomorrow claiming it as a crowning achievement.

Denis Wilson

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