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Senator tells different story about river usage

Wednesday, 6th February, 2019

Cotton dams in the northern Murray-Darling Basin last week. PICTURE: Rex Patrick Cotton dams in the northern Murray-Darling Basin last week. PICTURE: Rex Patrick

By Craig Brealey

Cotton farms are working the Macquarie River hard despite a claim that it has “zero” allocation for irrigation, says South Australian Senator, Rex Patrick.

This week the Federal Water Minister, David Littleproud, replied to Senator Patrick’s attempt to ban the export of thirsty cotton crops by saying that irrigators were also suffering from the drought.

“The Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie districts near (sic) Menindee are all on zero general allocation for irrigation this year,” the Minister said.

But this does not tally with the observations of Sen. Patrick who drove up the Macquarie from Dubbo on January 28, the day of the most recent mass fish kill at Menindee, to inspect the tributaries of the Darling. 

The Macquarie flows north-west and joins the Barwon River which becomes the Darling.

“At Dubbo there was 1665 megalitres flowing along the Macquarie River. By the time I had driven three hours north, level with Carinda, the flows had dropped to zero,” Sen. Patrick noted at the time.

“What happened in that short distance? The entire 1665 ML had been taken by irrigators - by the many farms I had passed along the road.

“I could see some of that water in channels (some lined, some unlined) next to some cotton fields.

“One of the very large cotton farms that I passed in that short drive is operated by Auscott.” 

Despite its name, this company was not Australian, the senator said.

“Many people are aware that a Chinese-led consortium owns Cubbie Station, but few are aware that Auscott, the largest cotton grower in Australia, is foreign-owned, too, by a US company,” Sen. Patrick said.

Auscott’s operations stretch from the Gwydir Valley on the Qld border through the Namoi and Macquarie valleys to the Murrimbidgee Valley in the south.

“I asked someone familiar with the river rules what would happen if the NSW Government embargoed river flows for a month or two to allow the township of Walgett to have drinking water, and the response was ‘those cotton farmers would experience drought for the first time’,” the senator said.

He continued up to Queensland on his “fact-finding tour” of the Northern Basin and found the tributaries of the Darling flowing and the dams on the cotton farms full.

The tributaries included the Condamine-Balonne, the Moonie, the Weir and the Macintyre, which forms part of the NSW border.

Auscott was contacted last week for comment on the senator’s claim that the Macquarie River was being pumped dry. 

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