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Senator proposes cotton export ban

Tuesday, 5th February, 2019

A cotton farm in the Northern Basin. This photo was taken last week by Senator Rex Patrick when he took a flight over the farms in northern NSW and southern Queensland. Note that the river (at right) stops flowing at the point where it is channeled into the dams. A cotton farm in the Northern Basin. This photo was taken last week by Senator Rex Patrick when he took a flight over the farms in northern NSW and southern Queensland. Note that the river (at right) stops flowing at the point where it is channeled into the dams.

By Craig Brealey

A Senator has warned the government that his proposal to ban the export of cotton was no election stunt but an attempt to have it finally address the catastrophe on the Darling River.

Rex Patrick, of the Centre Alliance party, said it had been prompted by the destructive neglect of the river and its tributaries, and the “disrespectful” response to the findings of the Murray-Darling Royal Commission.

Next week Senator Patrick will introduce a Bill to stop what he described as exporting water from the driest continent on earth.

“You could read the Royal Commission report or just watch what is happening to Walgett, Bourke and Menindee,” he told the BDT yesterday.

“This is not a stunt or a flash in the pan,” he said. “I’ve been working on this since last year.

“I was waiting for the Royal Commission to conduct its work, hopeful that when it did come out with an authoritative and well-constructed report, we would see a positive response from the Basin States and the Federal Water Minister (David Littleproud).

“Instead, it has been disrespectful and dismissive at best.

“I would rather not have to propose this Bill. I would much rather have the Basin States and Mr Littleproud say ‘OK, we accept there is a problem and there are a number of recommendations that we can adopt.

“This has not happened.”

Sen. Patrick said he would table the Bill next Wednesday to have it put before a Senate Committee.

A Senate inquiry would then seek input from “all corners of the Basin” including cotton farmers, he said.

“It may be, at the end, we get a regime that says cotton is prohibited for export and the Minister may issue a licence to farmers to grow cotton if they can show they’re not using floodplain irrigation.”

Royal Commissioner Bret Walker SC said in his report last week that cotton growers ought not be “demonised” because they were only doing what politicians had allowed them to do.

But Sen. Patrick said he hoped that the cotton industry’s representatives could  at least admit to there being a problem and contribute to the solution.

“Cotton Australia and the National Farmers Federation could say ‘we haven’t exercised our social licence very well, we’ve just gone full steam ahead promoting cotton farming.’

“They could use their considerable influence to get a number of the Royal Commission’s recommendations adopted.

“This Bill is a means to an end.”

Sen. Patrick said support for the Bill would depend on whether the independents held sway after the federal election in May.

“I don’t know if we’ll have the balance of power but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a future government will have to give the Bill serious consideration.

“Everyone knows there is a problem and that not much is being done about it.

“I am not saying that water entitlements don’t exist, but you don’t give irrigators every drop and not let some water flow downriver.

“Under no circumstamces do I see how that is right.”

Centre Alliance’s bill will amend the Export Control Act 1982 to prohibit the export of cotton grown in Australia. The proposed ban would come into effect no later than three years after the passage of legislation.

“We live on the driest inhabited continent on the planet yet are using our precious national water resources to produce a water intensive crop which we then export overseas so that foreign entities can profit making textiles and clothing,” said Sen. Patrick.

Ninety percent of cotton grown in Australia is exported and almost 20 percent of Murray-Darling irrigation water allocation is used to grow cotton, and this does not include floodplain harvested water which cannot be measured, he said.

“We are quite literally sucking the lifeblood out of the Murray-Darling river system at the expense of downstream food producers, the towns and cities dependent on our rivers for water supply, and the overall environmental health of the river system all the way to the Coorong lagoon in South Australia.”

 

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