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River’s end is nigh

Friday, 2nd August, 2019

By Craig Brealey

The apparent indifference of politicians to the imminent death of the Darling River and the future of everyone who lives along it was shocking, a member of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Community Committee said yesterday.

Howard Jones from Coomealla has been on the committee for seven years and represents the people of the Lower Darling.

Mr Jones told the BDT that the way government conducted itself when problems of national significance arose had changed beyond recognition in recent years.

“When it got to the pointy bit, pollies came good, but not in this case,” he said.

“We are at the very point end now and everyone’s just been left hanging.

“What is the State Government doing about the fish issue? When we get the first fortnight of hot weather in November, that will be the tipping point. Come November, we are in trouble.”

Water that should have been coming down the Darling was stopped when NSW introduced the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan in 2012, said Mr Jones.

That gave the once reliable supply of low flows to irrigators instead, he said. 

Flows were also being held up at Toorale Station which the Commonwealth bought but left its dams in place.

“That water would have come down but there are four or five dams. The Commonwealth bought it 12 years ago and nothing has been done,” he said.

Government knew what was going on with these and all the other examples of the rorts and mismanagment of the river system but did not apparently care, Mr Jones said.

“It is indifference and buck-passing.

“It is more than disgusting, it’s cruel.

“These politicians today in agri-politics are the cruellest I have seen, and I have been involved in it since 1987. It is a mess.

“I am 76 years old and I have never seen anything like it before. It is their total indifference to the plight of people.

“The politicians don’t know about anything further west than their own suburb and it is about time they got out here and had a look. And they had better bring some bloody money with them.”

Yesterday, the 15 members of the Basin Community Committee released a joint statement, pleading with the Murray-Darling Basin water ministers to drop the political games and act immediately to save river communities from disaster. 

The Ministerial Council is due to meet on Sunday.

Mr Jones said that many people still did not appreciate how bad things were and that last week he invited colleagues from Victoria to come with him to Menindee.

“They were horrified at what they saw,” he said.

“The people I introduced them to gave a pretty graphic description of what they have faced and what they are preparing themselves for.

“I know these people very well. I’ve been fishing with them, sat around the campfire, and I can see they are starting to fray.”

They included townspeople, the Barkindji and graziers as well as irrigators on the Lower Darling who have been trying to get the Commonwealth to buy their water licences because their situation is so hopeless.

“Badger’s Barkindji mob are more prone to the destruction because they depend on the river so much. It must be soul destroying,” said Mr Jones.

The lives of Lower Darling orchardists were also being ruined, he said.

“They feel forgotten. They are saying to the government ‘if there is no high security water anymore, then buy us out.’ They have been after this for five years.”

Generations of graziers were also facing ruin despite their careful stewardship and love of the land, he said.

“I have known the area for 50 years and seen the whole generational change in ownership and the rapid drift away from the accepted way of doing things.

“They are switched on and they take great pride in it but I’m starting to wonder how much more they can take.

“Some of these families go back 150 years. What they must be feeling now, God knows.”

Mr Jones owns a property on the river and although he is retired, still grows a small crop of grapes. In February, his term on the Basin Community Committee ends and he encouraged another local to take his place and fight for the Darling.

“The Basin Plan is the best vehicle we have. There is no other plan. We can’t go back because it will be bastardised.

“It’s better to be in the tent than outside, although sometimes it is very frustrating staying here.”

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