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It doesn’t add up: Senator

Thursday, 27th December, 2018

Rex Patrick inspected the Menindee Lakes system on Saturday. PICTURE: Supplied Rex Patrick inspected the Menindee Lakes system on Saturday. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

The appalling state of the Lower Darling River showed that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was far from a done deal, according to Senator Rex Patrick. 

The river was not flowing, the fish and the floodplain forests were dying and people on the river did not know how long they could last, said the Centre Alliance party Senator for South Australia.

Last weekend Senator Patrick came up from Adelaide to Menindee to see for himself how things were and to learn how they should be.

He spoke to locals, inspected the lakes structure from top to bottom, visited Sunset Strip and Tandou station and then travelled down the river on Sunday to Wentworth, meeting graziers, orchardists and grape growers along the way.

The aim was to establish the facts to better inform his work as a senator, he said.

“As a senator, I have two roles - to review and pass legislation, and to make sure Commonwealth money is being spent properly.”

Having knowledge of the lakes and the river would help him when the Murray-Darling Basin was discussed in Senate Estimates, he said.

“I heard water security was a significant issue and has become an issue since the Murray-Darling Basin Plan came into effect, which seems at odds with the intent of the plan.

“In the past floods would fill the lakes and they were drained over time but the MDBA, after the last couple of floods, emptied the lakes as quickly as possible. 

“It looks to me like some time in January, unless something happens, the lakes will be empty and the river will stop.

“As a South Australian I know full well what this will mean for the Murray mouth and the Coorong and it is quite disturbing that a river is not flowing.”

On his travels Senator Patrick was shown block banks, with pipes running through them, across the Lower Darling to keep some water for irrigation.

“The fact that they have to do that shows there is a problem.

“It turns out that right throughout the region non-one is paying any attention to it.

“Parkes is such a large electorate and there are only six or seven families on the Lower Darling. They have no weight compared to the upstream towns.”

Senator Patrick said he was told that few in government had any regard to their plight and that he was the first politician to visit them in a long time.

“It seems odd that it would take a South Australian politician ...” he said.

The senator said if there was any comfort to be drawn from what he had seen and heard it was the concern everyone had for the ancient river and lakes.

“There is an affinity between the irrigators and the environment.

“It is absolutely clear in my mind that all the people along the river are worried about the environment and what the lack of flow is doing to the fish that spawn in the lakes. 

“The fish now have to navigate through pipes because the river is blocked.”

The floodplain forest was also suffering from being denied the regular flooding from the river, he said.

“The trees are falling apart and lying on the ground.”

On December 14, the Federal Water Minister, David Littleproud, declared that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was settled and that “two million people who live up and down the Basin now have certainty.”

Senator Patrick suggested that statement was fanciful.

“The big takeaway for me is that the river system is not flowing as it should.

“That is hard to reconcile with the billions of dollars spent to ensure flows down both the Murray and Darling rivers.

“We have spent a lot of money and I have seen first-hand the state of the Lower Darling. Something does not add up.”

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