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Sen Patrick focuses on Lower Darling

Wednesday, 15th January, 2020

Senator Rex Patrick shuttles a fish with the help of a Menindee volunteer to a mobile fish tank for relocation. PICTURE: Senator Rex Patrick Senator Rex Patrick shuttles a fish with the help of a Menindee volunteer to a mobile fish tank for relocation. PICTURE: Senator Rex Patrick

By Myles Burt

Senator Rex Patrick has conducted another tour of the Lower Darling during which he helped rescue fish and gained yet more perspectives from the locals.

The South Australian senator said while the bushfires in SA, Victoria and NSW were terrible it was important that the country does not forget about the catastrophic situation on the Lower Darling.

Sen. Patrick, of the Centre Alliance Party, said he also worries about the increasing tensions among irrigators along the Upper Murray River who are becoming more agitated from watching water flow past their properties into SA. 

Southern NSW and Northern Victorian irrigators were having to bear the brunt of providing water to SA due to zero flows coming down the Darling River which once provided 40 per cent of flows for SA.

“It’s important for me as a South Australian to keep a bit of a focus on what’s happening up here,” he said.

“South Australia is dependent on the Murray, Adelaide’s drinking water is supplied by the Murray.

“We do have a desalination plant but we also note that places as far as Whyalla and Ceduna rely on the Murray for its water.”

Sen. Patrick said pressure on the irrigators had grown due to extensive cotton growing taking hold on the Murrumbidgee River. 

“We’ve had droughts come and go but it’s never been problematic, because we’ve had the Darling contributing, the Murrumbidgee contributing and the Murray contributing,” he said.

“Now there’s one river bearing all of that load.

“There’s a lot of greed, people focusing on economic activity, making money, but it’s at the expense of a river system that been here for such a long time.”

While in Menindee, Sen. Patrick helped volunteers relocate struggling native fish from shallow pools into better sections of the Darling. 

The fish rescue by Menindee volunteers has been going on for eight weeks, with locals building their own licensed fish relocation tank vehicle to keep their operations going. 

Sen. Patrick helped shuttle fish from a net that would sweep up fish from the pools into the mobile tank from where they were placed in a tube for them to slide back into the river. 

The mainly four-person volunteer team has managed to rescue hundreds of native fish. It is one year since the disastrous Menindee fish kills and Sen. Patrick said the river was no better off.

“We need to mindful of what will happen to the remainder of those (fish) if we don’t get rain, if we don’t get water flowing down the Darling.

“It was very useful to me to see what was happening in relation to that fish recovery operation.”

Sen. Patrick also stayed at Tolarno Station where he was shown around by Rob McBride on his normal rounds of maintaining drinking troughs.  

Sen. Patrick said he saw the pressure the McBride’s were under moving water around the property and having to sink two new bores to provide water for sheep, goats and native animals on his property from an aquifer that could dry up before any rains or flows finally reach the property.

“If that dries up he’s going to have some real problems,” Sen. Patrick said.

“You can have a sick animal, you can have a fence that breaks, but water is everything to these guys and without it they will shut down.”

Sen. Patrick said he saw Mr McBride’s son, James, lift trapped goats that had become bogged in the muddy edges of one of the stations overused dams. 

He said it took about an hour, time that could’ve been dedicated to other tasks around the property.

“That’s an hour they could’ve been spending fixing fences and doing other things.”.

In Broken Hill he met with Baakindji elder Badger Bates to gain his perspective on the Darling River. 

Sen. Patrick felt that Mr Bates would be able to provide an in depth timeline of the Darling River considering his position in the indigenous community and his long-standing connection with the river. 

Sen. Patrick feels that people’s memories of the Menindee fish kills have already begun to fade a year on from the disaster.

“Someone like Badger who’s been on the river for a long time and been hanging around the river, has been engaged with river, it’s good to hear their side of the story.

“Because his story is different to the station owners and the station hands.”

Sen. Patrick said he will be speaking about his time on the Lower Darling when he gets back to Parliament. 

He said was important the issues in the Lower Darling were repeatedly told in Canberra because there was a lack of political progress on the issue, partly due to other senators not engaging with the affected area.

“We need to see out here in Broken Hill, in Menindee, down through Pooncarie, we need to see NSW senators visiting, looking, seeing exactly what is happening here,” he said.

“As much as that may distract them from areas where there are greater population numbers, greater number of voters, it shouldn’t be about that.

“There has been little done to deal with the situation that people of the Lower Darling find themselves in.”

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