Report reveals breach
Wednesday, 4th November, 2020
By Craig Brealey
A special Citizens Inquiry into the disaster on the Barka/Darling River and Menindee Lakes last year has found that governments had breached their obligations and broken international law.
Irrigation had been put before the basic needs of human beings and the survival of the river system and the animals that rely on it, according to the inquiry.
This, it found, breached the Water Act and obligations under federal and international law as they relate to waterways of world importance and the rights of First Nations people.
The findings by an independent panel comprising lawyers, including a former Dean of Law at Macquarie University, were presented to the city last week.
Early last year the panel heard testimony from 110 people in total from Broken Hill, Menindee, Wilcannia and other towns up the river from Buronga to Brewarrina.
The hearings took place in the drought and soon after the mass fish kills in the Darling.
The Australian People’s Tribunal (APT) initiated the inquiry. Its report, with recommendations, will be sent to the Basin state governments and the Commonwealth.
The APT was formed in 2016 as part of a worldwide effort to enact laws to protect nature.
Among the 50 recommendations are that water trading be abolished and a moratorium introduced immediately, and that state governments establish a restoration fund for the entire river system.
No more water licences should be issued, floodplain harvesting banned, no new dams built, and a clean potable water supply for all the towns be guaranteed.
Laws should also be enacted to ensure all levels of government seek advice from the Aboriginal people of the river about its governance and restoration.
Dr Michelle Maloney, a lawyer and chairperson of the inquiry, said the testimony was damning.
“The biggest finding for me was the shock and desperation on the faces of the people giving evidence,” said Dr Maloney.
“We heard about people in despair, suicide, cultural decimation, people leaving town,” she said.
“As fellow Australians we wanted to show our solidarity and we came away sharing their shock and disgust that these things had been allowed to happen to our most precious waterways.”
Dr Maloney said the report was “the beginning of a larger discussion with the Australian people about caring for the river and the people on it.”
Mayor Darriea Turley was presented with copies of the report which will be made available for the public to read in the foyer of Council’s administration building.
The city’s two high schools will also each be given a copy of the report that Clr Turley described as a document of historic significance.
“It is the voice of the people on the river and it is important that their stories be shared with the nation,” she said.
“They represent the wisdom of a lifetime and I think this report should be in the National Archives.”
A small delegation of volunteers last week drove to Wilcannia, Menindee, Broken Hill, Brewarrina and Walgett to deliver copies.
“It is most important that the people of Broken Hill and the Lower Darling read this report and study its findings and recommendations,” said delegate Mark Merritt.
“There is a lot of strength to be taken for the people of this region.”