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Can’t hide fish kill

Saturday, 13th April, 2019

Fish rotting in the Darling River in January. Fish rotting in the Darling River in January.

By Craig Brealey

Nearly two thirds of the nation knows about the mass fish deaths at Menindee and about half think the management of the river system is bad, a new survey has found.

People’s opinion of the the state of the Murray-Darling system had fallen well away in the past year, due in no small part to the catastrophe on the lower Darling in December and January, according to the figures released this week.

Last year The Australia Institute conducted a national survey of 1,557 people. Its second survey, of 1,532 people, was held between February and March this year. 

The latest results show a majority (55 per cent) now consider the health of the Murray-Darling Basin poor or very poor, up 18 percentage points since 2018.

Over a third said the health of the river system was very poor - more than triple that number in 2018.

Almost half (48%) now consider the standard of river management by government agencies to be poor or very poor, compared to 33% in 2018.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) had heard about the mass fish kills, including three in four of people in NSW (72%). 

Graeme McCrabb, who is a member of the Menindee Tourist Association, said yesterday he was surprised that more people did not know about the disaster.

“Two-thirds is good but the rest must be overseas not to have heard of it,” said Mr McCrabb.

“But it is a good thing. Not only did it bring attention to what was happening on the river and in Menindee but it has also put places like Wilcannia, Brewarrina and Walgett on the map.

“They’re in a worse situation than we are. The water through the weir pool only stopped in February but up there they’re running out of drinking water. 

“Because of the fish kills the media is now looking into other places on the Darling.

“On ‘The Drum’ the other night there was a segment on the situation in Walgett.  “I don’t think that would have made national news if not for the fish kills.”

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority deserved to be held in low regard, said Mr McCrabb, but that was not good for the Basin Plan.

“The Plan needs to work but the MDBA has lost the faith of people.”

Meanwhile, things were picking up in Menindee because people were coming to see what had happened, he said.

“They see us as ground zero. There were about 15 people in the pizza shop at lunchtime today and we’re getting more people in town every day. 

“When the river comes back I expect to see a procession.”

According to the survey, two in five people had heard about allegations of large-scale water theft upstream and almost one-third knew about the South Australian Royal Commission into management of the Murray-Darling. 

Two-thirds said there should be a Commonwealth Royal Commission into the management of the Murray-Darling Basin, and only 11% said there should not be. 

Only 12% said that irrigation businesses upstream should be allowed to draw water for crops when downstream towns were without drinking water.  

“People in regional communities have been living day-to-day with the mismanagement of the Basin Plan and know first-hand just how badly it is being implemented,” said Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher at the Australia Institute in Canberra. 

“This research shows that after the Darling fish kill, the poor impression of the MDB Management has soared. The majority of Australians are now aware that the health and management of the Basin is in a terrible state.

“This is a clear message from voters that they are unimpressed with the poor implementation of the Basin Plan; it is failing farmers, communities and the environment.”


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