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Outraged, but not surprised

Friday, 16th August, 2019

Menindee’s Graeme McCrabb holds up a dead Murray Cod - one of the millions of fish that died during devastating fish kills near Menindee over summer. PICTURE: Myles Burt Menindee’s Graeme McCrabb holds up a dead Murray Cod - one of the millions of fish that died during devastating fish kills near Menindee over summer. PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Callum Marshall

The release of the Wentworth to Broken Hill Pipeline business case has been met with anger and frustration from Menindee locals, with many not surprised by its key revelations.

Having warned about the state government’s secrecy over the pipelines justification for years, many locals were saddened but not particularly shocked by the business case highlighting that upstream irrigators and miners were given precedence over lower Darling communities, the Barkindji people and the environment.

Local Karen Page, who’s been campaigning on water issues within Menindee for years, said the pipeline’s business case had only highlighted long-held concerns of hers.

“Nothing surprising whatsoever,” she said.

“As I said years ago when it was all happening, it’s criminal what they’ve done.

“They made up a community committee for us to discuss ... the future of (the) Menindee Lakes Scheme back in 2014 and everybody on that committee, about 30 of us including the Broken Hill Mayor at the time Wincen Cuy, and councillors, rejected that pipeline.

“Then we find out that the pipeline was actually signed off in 2012 before this Committee to discuss it was even formed.

“How misleading have they been and how heartbreaking has it been.”

After spending nearly 20 years in Menindee, Ms Page said that it was only in the last several years that she’d been worried about how the rivers’ water could impact her. 

“They’ve jeopardised the health and wellbeing (of the community) to benefit a more wealthy few,” she said.

“If any of them had compassion for the people along the river they could change everything with one phone call (or) with the flick of the pen. 

“Put those small and medium flows back into the river to keep it healthy alongside the communities. 

“They don’t have to have these lakes full all the time but they have to have a healthy river.”

Local Graeme McCrabb said he wasn’t surprised by the business cases’ revelations either and said it further confirmed the government’s neglect of the Darling River.

“(With the fish) situation we had last year and with fish dying already this year, (this) just (further) shows a failing of government and government policy that we’re in this situation,” he said.

“There’s been no investment in (the Darling River.)  No interest in it.

“And the current policy of trying to get an SDL (Sustainable Diversion Limits) project up out of the Menindee Lakes is just nothing short of disgusting.”

He said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the state government needed to work better to achieve the right outcomes for the river.

“You’ve got the Basin Authority calling for connectivity in the Barwon-Darling and you’ve (got) the NSW government implementing policies and running with business cases which are exactly the opposite to what the Basin Plan is after,” he said.

“Until the two start to work together, we’re all in a lot of trouble. Not just people in the Lower Darling but the whole system.”

Darryn Clifton, Vice-President of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG), said the government rhetoric of the pipeline being a ‘life-saver’ for Broken Hill was wrong.

“We had a quite reliable water supply from the Darling River, and since the 2012 Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan that water supply from the Darling River has become unreliable because we no longer get the small to medium flows down the river,” he said.

“You’ve got to look at what they’ve done with that Water Sharing Plan and how it stopped the flows coming down the river to justify building the pipeline.

“And the pipeline was dressed up to be a life-saver for Broken Hill when it really wasn’t.”

Now that the business case was released, he said DRAG and others’ concerns over the years had been vindicated. 

“We nearly got to the situation where we were out of water,” said Mr Clifton. 

“But that was caused by the government not allowing those flows to come down the river and aiding and abetting the cotton industry.

“(As well as) the constant water theft from those Northern irrigators that the governments and the Murray Darling Basin Authority knew about but did nothing about.

“And we were called liars and (accused of) spreading misinformation by federal and state politicians (about the pipeline.)

“(But the business cases’ release) vindicates and... justifies what we were saying all along.”

For Mal Highet, who’s been trucking bottled water up to Menindee and the region for years, the release of the pipeline’s business case also confirmed his own suspicions and anger at the way things had been managed.

“I can’t describe how angry I am with the federal and state governments for allowing this to happen and for actually taking part in trying to destroy Menindee and some of the other communities along the Darling,” he said.

“The state government (will say) they’re helping us get water out there because I think they feel guilty in a sense.”

He said the water situation up and down the Darling was pretty dire.

“When something needs to be done we’ve got to do it now because at the moment we’ve got Menindee with (about) one pallet of water, if that. 

“We’ve got Wilcannia with one pallet left, we’ve got Walgett with no water.

“And I work 50-plus hours a week as a truck driver, so I’m desperately trying to do my job and organise this as well.”

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