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Last straw

Thursday, 20th February, 2020

Graeme McCrabb Graeme McCrabb

By Craig Brealey

“Red hot anger” in Menindee about the NSW Government letting upstream irrigators take flood waters promised to the Darling River was the last straw for the town’s tourism body.

Yesterday the Menindee Tourist Association withdrew from any further talks with the government about the Menindee Lakes Savings Project.

The group representing Aboriginal people, the Barkindji Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation, quit last week.

Each has said they will not take part in any more “Stakeholder Advisory Group” discussions until there is water in the river and the lakes.

The DPIE had convened three meetings and, as the CEO of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was told in Menindee two weeks ago, the subject of the lakes had not even been discussed.

Yesterday when the DPIE called another meeting, in Pooncarie, the MTA told them they were out.

At the meeting the locals were invited to suggest “options” for how the lakes could be better managed but Graeme McCrabb, the vice chairman of the MTA, said it was too late, especially after NSW lifted the embargo on flood plain harvesting.

“There’s no point talking about options if we don’t even know how much water is coming down the river,” said Mr McCrabb.

NSW Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, lifted the embargo at the advice of the DPIE. It has since emerged that the DPIE invited northern irrigators, including large cotton farms, to complain that the floods might damage their infrastructure.

Emails from the DPIE show that the invitation was sent the day after the embargo was lifted, in an apparent attempt to justify the decision.

“That left a very nasty taste in our mouths, and that was after the job they did on the Menindee weir,” said Mr McCrabb.

“They did an absolute botch and a half with that.”

The weir was meant to be removed but only the top was demolished. It still  rises two and a half metres from the river bed, Mr McCrabbe said.

In Pooncarie yesterday Mr McCrabb told the DPIE officers that feeling was running very high in Menindee.

He read to them a quote from the owner of a local service station: “The town is seething at the moment, red hot with anger over the embargo lifting”.

The Menindee Lakes Project was nothing more than another attempt by government to withhold even more water from the Darling, Mr McCrabb said.

The “savings” measures proposed will cut the volume by another 106 gigalitres and allow the lakes to be drained even more rapidly via larger regulators.

“We didn’t sign up to the 106 gigalitres; the State Government did,” he said.

“Again, it’s all about shifting water from our end of the river to the north.”

In announcing the MTA’s decision to withdraw from talks, Mr McCrabb told the DPIE that it backed the Barkindji’s quitting.

“Not only do we support and endorse the position taken by the Native Title Board, but as representatives of our community we have to take a position that represents the town’s feelings.”

Among the MTA’s requests for resuming discussions were:

* The release of the findings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s investigation of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan.

* The completion of the review, and legislation, regarding flood plain harvesting.

* “First flush” rules be clearly defined to ensure connectivity of the whole river system to Wentworth, so as to avoid the situation that has led to a complete loss of faith in NSW water policy.

* A Menindee Lakes Project that takes into account significant cultural sites, emphasis on environmental outcomes, consultation with fisheries and birdlife experts, and a drought reserve of three years maintained in the lakes.

“If our abstaining from meetings excludes us from future input, that is a position we are more than comfortable with, as the current process is no longer tenable,” Mr McCrabb told the DPIE.

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