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River inquiry seeks justice

Wednesday, 6th March, 2019

Dr Michelle Maloney Dr Michelle Maloney

By Craig Brealey

On the Darling River, local knowledge and suffering had been dismissed by government for too long and it was time they heard it straight, says a lawyer who is leading a new inquiry.

Everyone might be sick of all the talk and no action but they are being urged to tell their stories this month to a Citizens’ Inquiry called “Justice for the Darling River and Menindee Lakes”.

It is being run by an independent panel comprising people drawn from all over the country and lawyers working free, including a former Dean of Law at Macquarie University and an international environmental lawyer. 

Hearings will be held in Broken Hill and up the river from Buronga to Brewarrina. 

At the end, everything gathered will be sent in a report, with recommendations, to the Basin states and the Commonwealth in May or June. 

Dr Michelle Maloney, a lawyer and chairperson of the inquiry, said she realised people were fed up with seeing nothing done despite all the evidence of wrongdoing. 

“If people are too buggered, I totally get that,” Dr Maloney told the BDT yesterday.

“This is a tragedy that’s been coming for a long time,” she said.

“But this inquiry is different. It’s not government; it’s a lot of people concerned about what is happening.

“We can’t sit by and watch this happen to our fellow Australians without doing something to help.

“We’ve got the people here and the legal eagles with the time and energy to push back.”

The Australian People’s Tribunal was formed in 2016 as part of a worldwide effort to enact laws to protect nature.

Last October it held a hearing in Brisbane about the impact of industrial-scale agriculture and evidence was given about the damage it was doing to the Darling, Dr Maloney said.

“Of course, it all came to the fore with the fish kills.”

The Citizens’ Inquiry hearings begin in Buronga on March 19 and continue in Wentworth, Broken Hill, Menindee, Wilcannia, Bourke, Walgett and Brewarrina.

It wants to hear from everyone who relies on the Darling for water, whether it be for drinking, household, farming or business use.

Descriptions of the state of the river are also invited, and how it has affected lives and the local economy.

Evidence is also sought on the impact of no flows on the biodiversity and natural systems; the main reasons for the river’s ruin and; what needs to be done to fix it. 

People may give evidence in person or submit written or recorded audio/visual testimony any time before April 30 to: www.tribunal.org.au

Those wishing to testify at the hearings may register at the same website.

The inquiry also welcomes evidence from scientists who have worked on the Darling, and lawyers with knowledge of the governance systems for the river and lakes.

“I understand that people are exhausted and angry but if you have a little bit of energy left, please make the effort,” said Dr Maloney.

“You don’t have to come to the tribunal. You can submit videos or photos, and if you’ve been interviewed before you can email that and it will all be part of the big report that we’ll give to the government.”

She said the Citizens’ Inquiry was only being to held so that public concerns about the Darling - and suggestions for ways forward - were “taken seriously by politicians and decision makers. 

“By collating evidence and testimony from people along the Darling River, we will help to amplify their voices and demand change. 

“The legal and power structures that have brought the Darling River to its present tragic state need to be transformed.” 

The hearings will be held in:

Broken Hill Musicians’ Club, March 22, 9.30am - 5pm

Menindee Central School, March 23, 11am - 6pm

Wilcannia Community Hall, March 25, 9.30am - 5pm.

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