Rorting our rivers
Australian taxpayers have spent billions on water reform to ensure our rivers are healthy and that water is shared according to the rules.
Last Monday ABC’s Four Corners aired a series of damning revelations that showed how big irrigators and governments have been colluding to rort the water management system in the Murray Darling Basin.
The revelations include:
- Massive water theft by big irrigators in the Barwon-Darling system; billions of litres are reported to have been stolen by some irrigators
- Investigations into water theft blocked or discontinued by the NSW Government
- Dodgy rules that allow big irrigators to suck out water intended to keep rivers healthy, and use it to grow cotton
- Collusion between key NSW public servants and irrigation lobbyists to undermine the Basin Plan
Country and Community impacted
The appalling practices aired in last week’s program have had a real and devastating impact on Aboriginal communities and Country along the Darling River and beyond. We now know that, in 2016, when the lower Darling River had run dry, irrigators at the top of the system were stockpiling, and stealing water for their huge cotton farms. This is like a kick in the guts for our rivers, undermining the chances of restoring vital habitat for threatened native fish, water birds and majestic red gum forests. What’s more, it jeopardizes the wellbeing and cultural identify of Traditional Owners who have lived beside and cared for the Barka (Darling River) for millennia.
Inquiries and investigations
The community has been outraged by these revelations and governments have had to take belated action. Since last Monday, we’ve seen:
The NSW Coalition government announce an ‘independent investigation’ into allegations of water theft and corruption, to be headed by former National Water Commission Boss Ken Mathews
The NSW Labor Opposition announce it will refer former water minister Kevin Humphries and a senior water bureaucrat to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The Federal Government announce an independent basin-wide review into compliance with the Murray-Darling basin plan, to be led by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. A report is to be provided to the Council of Australian Governemnts (COAG) by December.
The Broken Hill City Council call on the NSW Government to suspend work on a proposed $500 million pipeline, to pump water to the town from the Murray River. The Council also expressed its disgust at the betrayal of the people of western NSW and the reckless regard for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Is it enough to have inquiries led by the same governments and agencies that have turned a blind eye to this water theft and corruption? Over the last week there have been a raft of calls for action from different stakeholders.
- The South Australian Government and Federal Labor Party want an independent judicial review — independent of government and independent of politics — led by a senior judicial figure.
- The Australia Greens and Australian Conservation Foundation are also calling for an urgent Senate Inquiry to investigate the allegations.
- The Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the inland Rivers Network have called for NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian to remove National Party MPs from natural resources portfolios.
- South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter has also called for Federal Water Minister Barnaby Joyce to stand down.
Stand with Traditional Owners!
MLDRIN needs your help to ensure this story doesn’t get swept under the carpet. Traditional Owners have been witnessed the impacts of degraded rivers and watched as Country and cultural traditions come under threat. This is a vital opportunity to have our voice heard. We need to keep the pressure up!
Here’s what you can do to help:
1) Sign and share our petition to PM Malcolm Turnbull. The petition calls on Turnbull to restore water to our rivers, recognise Aboriginal water rights and mount a thorough investigation of the Four Corners revelations (don’t forget to share it with your friends via email and facebook once you’ve signed).
2) Contact your local Federal Member of Parliament and tell them you want to see a full, federal judicial inquiry into water theft and corruption in the Basin (while you’re at it, tell them how much a healthy, flourishing Murray-Darling river system means to you).
3) Write letters to the editor of your local paper or call talk back radio to make your voice heard. Politicians are listening to the public response, your voice is powerful right now.
4) Support Traditional Owner organisations and voices. Aboriginal people have intimate connections with the rivers and waterways of the Basin. Make contact with groups in your area, offer support and help promote their messages.
Together we have already forced government’s hand and started to turn the spotlight on water theft and corruption. Let’s stand united so that vested interests can never again rort our rivers!