Profit & greed will not put water back in the river

If we are to survive, let alone feel at home, 
we must begin to understand our country. 
If we succeed, one day we might become Australian. 
                              - Bill Gammage

Canberra was a farm when Australia rode on the sheep’s back but no more. Red trams carry outsourced public servants from dormitory suburbs to Canberra CBD. On a one week drive Sydney to Canberra through western NSW and the southern tablelands of Queensland I could see something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Dams are empty, the once mighty Castlereagh is a billabong, grass has turned to dust. The Mehi River in Moree is a dried up water hole. The local bathes that were subject of Charlie Perkins’ Freedom Ride are the biggest waterhole in the town. There is little fodder, even for the locusts that come out this time each year. Yet, at the same time, you can see vast farms growing lentils, wheat, almonds for export while regional towns are dying. The rich have gouged the water from the land to make profit and wealth, the squatters, the Macquarie Street farmers, the agribusinesses and the stock market.

Tonight the ABC’s Q & A discussed these issues with a panel of ‘experts’. Media and politicians focus was placed on farmers, regional small business and the National Farmers Federation. What about the workers in the towns – the service workers, garbage workers, the road gangs, construction workers? These workers keep the farms and the rural economy alive.

Here is what a first nations person had to say:

Economist Ross Gittins says some farmers are profiting from climate change. You can hear the mindset of the old Keynesian economists in these words:

There is mounting evidence that farm businesses can actually benefit from drought in the longer term. This seems to occur because businesses that go through drought develop coping strategies that when invoked in good years produce much greater profits … shielding farm businesses from the drought runs the risk that they won’t adapt. Changing climate suggests that a lot more adaptation – including bigger, more mechanised farms and many more farmers leaving the land-lies ahead.” – Lin Crase, an economics professor at the University of South Australia.

SMH 23 Oct 2019

Take Armidale which is running out of water; it is at the top of the range so no catchment and no bore water.

The Australia Institute has called for a Royal Commission. But will this be just another cover up.

Federal and state government ministers are building new dams – 20 to 30 large new dams have been recently constructed – funded at least in part by the taxpayer. The proposed dam at Stanthorpe is to be publicly funded but privately owned. These dams are for private agribusiness and do nothing to help drought-affected communities or the health of the river.

We don’t need a Royal Commission, that is just a fob off, people already know that:

  • The Murray Darling Basin is in crisis: mass fish kills, towns trucking in water, Australia’s dairy & rice industries at the point of collapse and scandals at the highest level.
  • The $13 billion Murray Darling Basin Plan is failing due to mismanagement & the power of vested interests. 
  • This isn’t about farmers vs the environment. This is about corporate agribusiness being looked after while small farmers, communities and the environment are left high and dry. 
  • Regional Australians need help but Federal and state governments are failing them
  • There is large-scale water theft agency cover ups, political and regulatory capture, dodgy water deals, fraud and unlawful amendments.
  • Small irrigators have been hurt by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) decision to flood the Barmah-Millewa forest and drain Menindee Lakes.
  • Frackers are destroying ground water and natural acquifers
  • Forests like the Piliger are being cut down to open up new mines.

More say needs to be given back to local communities and local government, not taken away by big business and big government in Canberra.

Meanwhile, the principal of Trundle Central School and students have been trying to help their families in times of significant rural need. In the last 12 months, the school community has delivered 250 food and toiletry packages costing Trundle community $70,000 (Trundle principal John Southon leads the way into regional finals).

Ian Curr
October 2019

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