Excessive diversion of Murray-Darling water for irrigation

22 Jul 2020

February 18, 2019

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie and her Centre Alliance colleague Senator Rex Patrick today welcomed the release of the Australian Academy of Science’s report on recent fish kills in the Murray Darling Basin.

Photograph: Pictured on the banks of the Murray River are Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff, Rebekha, Senator Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Candidate for Barker Kelly Gladigau and Centre Alliance Senate Candidate Skye Kakoschke-Moore.

"The Academy of Science’s report provides further evidence that the Murray-Darling river system is in dire straits," Senator Patrick said today.

"The findings of the Academy’s expert panel are absolutely clear, and absolutely consistent with the findings of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission - too much water is being taken for irrigation and not enough is being allowed to flow down the Darling River.

Specifically, the Academy has found that "the root cause of the fish kills is that there is not enough water in the Darling system to avoid catastrophic decline of condition through dry periods."

The Academy panel notes that this state of affairs has developed "despite a substantial body of scientific research that points to the need for appropriate flow regimes."

The Academy further finds that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s engagement with local residents, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, has been "cursory at best, resulting in insufficient use of their knowledge and engagement around how the system is best managed."

The Academy notes that "Most of the water diverted for use in the Darling River catchments is for irrigation, mostly to grow cotton."

Significantly the panel further highlights "serious deficiencies in governance and management, which collectively have eroded the intent of the Water Act 2007 and implementation of the Murray- Darling Basin Plan framework."

The Academy’s conclusion is emphatic: "Failure to act resolutely and quickly on the fundamental cause—insufficient flows—threatens the viability of the Darling, the fish, and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods and wellbeing including the traditional owners, who have recognised rights and responsibilities."

"The Academy of Science’s expert panel has delivered the same verdict as the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commissioner," Rebekha said.

"The Royal Commission report is an authoritative assessment of the state of the Murray-Darling and what needs to be done to save the river system.

"Unfortunately, the responses from many of the jurisdictions to the Royal Commission recommendations have so far been dismissive or, at best, weak."

Rex says the mass fish kills on the lower Darling River and the fact that some townships are now without river water, leaves no doubt that the Murray-Darling system is in deep crisis through over-exploitation of water resources.

"This is a consequence of gross mismanagement and the excessive diversion of water to support export cotton crops produced in Queensland and western New South Wales. Cotton and its huge drain on Basin water resources cannot be ignored in efforts to implement water management reforms," Rex said.

"The Federal Opposition’s action in requesting the Academy of Science to investigate the recent fish kills is to be commended. What is required now is action – urgent reforms consistent with the findings and recommendations of both the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission and the Academy of Science’s expert report.

"In the absence of such action, the environmental degradation of the Murray-Darling Basin system will continue and more radical measures such as my bill seeking to ban the export of cotton will have to be considered.

"Decisive action is essential if we are to avoid the Murray-Darling Basin becoming the Australian equivalent of the Aral Sea."

You can read Rebekha's Second Reading Speech on the Export Control Amendment (Banning Cotton Exports to Ensure Water Security) Bill 2019 here.

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