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Cause of death clear on the lower Darling

Saturday, 9th November, 2019

Senator Rex Patrick with Rob McBride by the river at Tolarno Station this week. PICTURE: Supplied Senator Rex Patrick with Rob McBride by the river at Tolarno Station this week. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

In December last year Senator Rex Patrick visited Weir 32 where 300 megalitres was flowing per day. When he returned the following month the flow was 90 ML. 

On Tuesday this week there was none, and the farmers on the lower Darling River were giving up, he said.

“There is no question in my mind that this is the result of over-extraction, mismanagement of the river system - and I point my finger at the draining of the lakes which has not really been explained.

“Now the whole situation has been exacerbated by drought.”

The Centre Alliance Senator for South Australia has visited Menindee several times, driven the length of the Darling River and taken aerial photographs, published in the BDT, of full irrigation dams on the Queensland/NSW border. 

Yesterday he said he’s gone back to Menindee to see how things had changed. He also drove down the lower Darling to meet people on the verge of losing the family farm.

“It is different to last time in that much of the river has no water. It’s just puddles of stagnant water that you could not even give to livestock.

“You can see the environmental and economic disaster that it is.”

Sen. Patrick said orchardist and grape grower, Rachel Strachan, from Tulney Point Station was “giving up and getting out”.

Five years ago Ms Strachan and nine other family farmers on the Lower Darling offered to sell their high security water licences to the Commonwealth because they were useless. They are still waiting and now the water has run out.

Tolarno Station, a sheep station 45km south of Menindee, is relying on a bore but how long that will last was not known, said Sen. Patrick

“Once that is exhausted, Tolarno, which is 170 years old, might shut down. That is truly disturbing.”

In Menindee he was shown the primitive piece of “equipment” that the NSW Government uses to measure evaporation in the Menindee Lakes.

“It is a pan. It seems odd because it does not represent what is happening on the lakes in any way, shape or form.”

The Senator said he had no doubt that the destruction of the Darling was planned years ago.

“It looks like the whole thing has been orchestrated - neutralise the people of Broken Hill with the pipeline to allow extra water to be extracted from the river,” he said.

After the Northern Basin review last year irrigators were granted an extra 70 gigalitres - more water that no longer comes down the Darling.

The federal Labor opposition voted against it but backed down.

“In the context of what is happening now, the over-extraction, plus the 70 gigalitres, the lakes drained, all those farmers on the lower Darling have their backs up against the wall.”

They, and farmers everywhere, had lost all political representation, Sen. Patrick said.

“The National Party represents the needs of large irrigators and has ignored their traditional constituents, the family farmers,” he said.

The other parties offered no help either, and some of his fellow senators had not accepted an invitation to visit Menindee or the properties on the lower Darling, Sen. Patrick said.

“Someone has to pay some attention to it, and it was disappointing to hear that no NSW Senators have come out to have a look,” he said.

“I clearly have an interest in the Darling River because it usually provides 40 per cent of the Murray’s flows to South Australia, but the bigger crisis is in New South Wales.

“It is unbelievable that no-one else has had a look.”

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