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Candidates tour river

Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidates Roy Butler (left) and Helen Dalton (right) with ecologist Bill Johnson on the banks of the Darling River.PICTURE: Myles Burt Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidates Roy Butler (left) and Helen Dalton (right) with ecologist Bill Johnson on the banks of the Darling River.PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Myles Burt

Barwon candidate Roy Butler is travelling out with MDBA whistle-blower Bill Johnson to look into the science around the Darling River.

Bill Johnson took up the offer to travel with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Barwon candidate and Murray candidate Helen Dalton from Griffith.

He help them understand the Murray Darling Basin through his years as an ecologist and previous working experience in the Murray Darling Basin Authority. 

“My view is that the members for Barwon and Murray are going to be the two most powerful water politicians in the Basin,” Mr Johnson said.

“He seemed like a reasonably decent bloke and he wanted to find out about the river.

“So there was an opportunity to have another look myself but also to talk to Roy, meet Helen, and to just get their ideas.”

The crew are now on a five-day journey along the Darling River, with their first stop at Wilcannia last Monday.

Mr Johnson hopes over the week he’ll be able to explain vital aspects of the Basin to the pair, as the candidates are running to win two of the largest electorates in NSW.

“There are some big issues, but I think water out this way it’s going to be the biggest,” Mr Johnson said.

“I was saying to Roy if you win this seat, you’re going to have a big job.

“What’s happened here at Menindee has demonstrated the absolute failure of what we’ve been doing so far.

“It needs a reset, it needs a reset from politicians, government and government agencies.

“I think as the problem becomes more chaotic and more intractable, communities are being pushed to one side, it’s becoming more insular and isolated.

“People in communities have to be brought into the debate in a way they have an influence on decisions.

“The big thing for me in summary is that people need to start talking to each other.

“I’m hoping if I can play a role in that.”

Mr Johnson said he was stunned by what he saw of the recent massive fish deaths, even with his years of experience on NSW rivers.

“The Menindee Barwon-Darling fish population were one of the last strongholds of big breeding in the Basin.

“The Southern Basin, because of the changes down there it’s not the stronghold it used to be.

“The Northern Basin, there’s fish up there, further up, but this is the last stronghold.

“If nothing’s done to fix it then they’ll all die, that’s why it’s so urgent to do something about it.

“Even if we make conditions perfect for fish, it’ll take decades and decades to recover.

“I know everyone’s trying to avoid saying it’s not us it’s the drought, the drought is the catalyst.

“It’s been the catalyst on top of years and years of practises that have meant the drought was the straw that broke the camel’s back basically.

“People talk about killing the river, that fish kill was just a taste of what it’d look like.

“That’s what starting to kill the river looks like.”

Mr Butler is looking forward to learning all that he can about the Darling River from Mr Johnson in order to understand the water issues he’s heard across countless communities.

“I hope to get every bit of information I can out of him in the next few days.”

Murray candidate Helen Dalton, who has travelled a few times to Menindee for recreational fishing, is interested to see what’s unravelling in the Northern Basin, as they plan to travel up through to Bourke and the Queensland border. She’s already heard multiple concerns from Pooncarie about the quality of the Darling River.

Ms Dalton said what she’s seen in Menindee is “a lot worse than I ever thought it would be”.

“What happens in the Darling hugely impacts on us,” Ms Dalton said.

“I’m deeply concerned with what’s going on.

“We deal with the vagaries of weather, but we’re also dealing with the vagaries of bad water policy.

“What bad water policy it is, and it needs to change.

“I thought in 2015 when they drained the Lakes that they would’ve learnt their lesson, no they do it again after the flooding in 2016.

“This is critical that this is sorted out.”

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