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Cry me a river; the Murray-Darling is being destroyed by greed and ignorance.

A stench of putrefaction wafts over a troubled nation, this week, all the way from the tiny, dusty, outback settlement of Menindee, in far west NSW. Mass media is full of shocking images of an horrific mass fish kill in the millions and distressed, hapless, trapped wildlife; hopelessly mired in the deep mud of a dessicated Lake Cawndilla, nearby, confronting Australia with the catastrophic failure of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, (MDBA), a $13 billion lemon.

The MDBA’s failure is a metaphor for our nation’s ruling elite, who, like Trump, inhabit the eternal now and are in politics solely to look after big cotton, big mining and their other corporate sponsors. Bugger the science. Bugger the future. Just like Trump, Melissa Price, our own climate change denying environment minister has mining connections.

The environment can look after itself.

Or not. Set up by the 2007 Water Act to rescue the basin’s fragile ecosystem, by returning water to the ailing rivers, the MDDBA, its conflicted, compromised and corrupted, dark angel, instead, is achieving “perverse outcomes” – jargon for making things worse. It is, as some locals suggest, as if we’ve put mother in a home notorious for elder abuse.

Evasiveness, secrecy and deceit, experts testify, are part of the rotten culture of the MDBA – a test case in good policy stuffed up at every turn; a clusterfuck from foundation to nearly every stage of its implementation. It’s almost (apart from the policy) in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government DNA. Except that Labor had a spanner in the works, too.

The MDBA is “a fraud on the environment”, Royal Commission lawyers declare, on the other hand. Put simply it has not merely watered down a noble plan whose rational aims are enshrined in The Water Act of 2007 – it has subverted it.

The Water Act 2007 recognises that too much water is being extracted from the river system and seeks to reset the balance between the amount required for human consumption and the amount needed to sustain the environment. By 2011, however, as the Royal Commission will find, The MDBA seems to have subverted the intention of the act with the support of key National Party figures including current leadership rematch contender, Barnaby Joyce.

Psst… No-one says nothing. The 2017 Royal Commission is due to report in a few weeks, but it’s stymied by states and authorities’ refusal to cooperate. Had the banks behaved in this fashion during the Hayne Royal Commission there would have been an uproar. Not so rotten in the state of Renmark, South Australia, alone, agrees to give evidence.

Unimpressed, Counsel Assisting, Richard Beasley S.C, an eminent specialist in environmental law notes, acerbically, in his summing up for the Commissioner, Brett Walker S.C., that the state governments’ submissions were,

“..either totally unhelpful or not particularly helpful.”

The MDBA itself excels in chutzpah and contempt by writing to the Commissioner saying it is unavailable because it is “busy”. Our finest scientists, on the other hand, provide the commission with a wealth of expert, testimony.

“Systematic mismanagement, cover up and maladministration has undermined the proper implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan”, Maryanne Slattery, a Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute sums up.

“Implementing the Plan for political expediency, without transparency or accountability by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, has resulted in a fraud of a Basin Plan. It has benefited big irrigators, at the expense of everyone else, including Aboriginal people, regional communities, floodplain graziers, small irrigators and the environment.

MDBA has ignored the science it was set up to apply in favour of pleasing its political masters. Now, the fish kill creates a big stink for both major parties but especially for Barnaby Joyce, former Minister for Agriculture and Water resources, who is on record boasting publicly to farmers in a Politics in the Pub-demonise a Greenie session in Shepparton, Victoria of how his mob, heroically, was able to take the water meant for the environment and return it to agriculture.

“We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask,”

Former Director of National Farmers’ Federation, Mal Peters, claims Joyce tilted the Murray-Darling Basin Authority towards irrigation interests over the environment when he was agriculture minister. It may be impossible to tilt back.

Joyce is popular with irrigators for killing off water buybacks and substituting subsidies for efficiency, effectively government handouts but efficiency reduces the run-off back into the river system with predictably disastrous effects.

Above all, “hard ask” Joyce insists on his rhetorical triple bottom line which gives economic and social needs priority over environmental; subverting the environmental aims and the entire intention of the Water Act.

“It’s a public relations sound-bite made up by the Basin Authority” says Counsel Assisting Beasley. There can be no trade-offs between environmental objectives and socio-economic ones, as the environmental objectives of the Act are subordinate to Australia’s international environmental treaty obligations. We are committed to Ramsar, a treaty to preserve wetlands, which takes its name from the small Iranian town where in 1971, the agreement was drawn up.

The Productivity Commission, notes in its recent report available in draft form – (its final report is with government on the understanding that it will be released in 2019) that cancelling buybacks has resulted in more than doubling the cost of water savings. The commission concludes that the current progress on implementing water efficiency measures “gives little confidence” they would be completed by 2024, as planned. But when will the report be released?

Joyce, Morrison’s government, the states and the authority itself show true leadership by keeping eerily shtum.

Hilariously, ScoMo, our chameleon PM becomes “Prime Minister for standards”, he declares, at the end of the week, as he cynically but shrewdly comes up with another spectacular diversion; a truly cunning stunt. Sunday, our own political head prefect decrees, that Australia Day citizenship ceremonies will be compulsory. And formal. No flip-flops.

Not only must councils run ceremonies for new Aussie citizens on Australia Day, they’ll have to hold another on 17 September. But watch what you wear. ScoMo’s bold new citizenship shindig has a dress code. No thongs and shorts. In brief, you can become an Australian at a citizenship ceremony only if you shun Australian casual national dress. It’s bonkers, but it has to be to distract from the biggest stink of the Coalition’s odoriferous last five years in office.

Bill Shorten sniggers at ScoMo’s cynical ploy. “You sort of know when Australia Day’s coming up don’t you, when a couple of weeks before we get the annual conservative outing to put politics into Australia Day,” the Labor leader tells reporters in Melbourne Sunday. “It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy.” As do the reactionaries.

Edicts and bad odour are no novelty to our nation’s history. Menindee also felt the full force of government authority on January 26 1935 when, during the first rally against Australia Day, twenty-five Aboriginal men were nicely told if they did not perform the role of ‘retreating Aborigines’ in a re-enactment of the First Fleet, their families would starve.

Echoing Morrison’s current concern for a good show, officials were to recruit the best singers and dancers and take them back to Sydney to perform. Their women were terrified. Ngiyaampaa elder Dr Beryl (Yunghadhu) Philp Carmichael, born and raised on the mission, was only three at the time, but her memory of the fear in the community never left her.

“Whether they were taking them away to be massacred or what, no-one knew. The community went into mourning once they were put on the mission truck,” she recalls.

Menindee is a richly resonant site, historically, politically, ecologically and countless other ways including our vast, interminable, inscrutable legacy of heroic colonial stupidity – and our forbears’ barbarous cruelty to Aboriginal peoples.

In the light of Morrison’s decree on the observance of Australia Day, another typically vacuous, bogan slogan which reveals his ignorance of his nation’s history, (“I think people want Australia Day to be Australia Day, it’s for all Australians”,) it is timely to acknowledge the testimony of Edward Wilson who wrote in The Argus, 17 March 1856,

“In less than twenty years we have nearly swept them off the face of the earth. We have shot them down like dogs. In the guise of friendship we have issued corrosive sublimate in their damper and consigned whole tribes to the agonies of an excruciating death. We have made them drunkards, and infected them with diseases which have rotted the bones of their adults, and made such few children as are born amongst them a sorrow and a torture from the very instant of their birth. We have made them outcasts on their own land, and are rapidly consigning them to entire annihilation.”

Menindee unwittingly played its role. The first town on the Darling, Menindee is the oldest, European colonial settlement in western NSW and was the advance base for Burke and Wills’ 1860 expedition, a grand folly half-cocked, a noble failure, which, not unlike the MDBA, or the Morrison government, set out before its instructions were finalised.

Today, the putrid smell of decomposing carcasses of millions of golden perch, bony herring and Murray cod drifts up over the Darling River bank and into Maiden’s Menindee Hotel whence on 19 October 1860, Robert O’Hara Burke and his third in command, William John Wills, set out into terra incognita; their fatal expedition and the beginning of the end; a shocking new chapter of disease, dispossession and genocide for the traditional owners of the land.

“It opened up the way for the pastoralists,” says Joshua Haynes from Newcastle, a director of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation -, “and the moment someone took up ownership of the land we could be moved on, or disposed of, just like a kangaroo.”

After the pastoralists came the irrigators; cotton and wheat farmers who took both water and land. “Without the river, us Barkandji people, we are nothing. We’ve got no land, no name, nothing. This is our lifeblood, this is our mother,”

Barkandji Elder “Badger” Bates laments in a letter read in NSW parliament by Independent MP. Jeremy Buckingham.

After waiting 18 years for their Native Title to be acknowledged, his people watch the Barka (Darling river) dry up.

Menindee, today, is thus, the site of a massive environmental disaster, a site layered with all the historical associations of dispossession, alienation and worse; of Burke and Wills grand folly, now overlaid with the folly of irrigated agriculture, unsustainable – environmentally and economically not only here, but throughout Australia. Add a failure of political will.

Big irrigators with big party donations have recruited politicians of all persuasions. It’s a dramatic, tragic reminder in microcosm of how poorly governments of a corporate state have mismanaged energy, environment and health for example when too much power resides in a few massive corporations and oligopolies. Yet we don’t lack in ideas.

In 2006, a meeting of western NSW mayors, chaired by local state MP Peter Black, voted for the Commonwealth to buy the 96,000 hectare Cubbie Station, in southwestern Queensland, the largest landholding in the nation and also the biggest irrigation property in the southern hemisphere, enjoying rights to 400,000 megalitres of water, equivalent to all the water licences downstream in north-west NSW, but it was sold to a Chinese-led consortium. It’s a scandal.

There were two Australian bids on the table, both more generous than the $240 million winning bid, as the ABC’s Stephen Long reported on Radio National’s PM programme in 2012. At the time Fairfax’s Ann Kent puzzled,

“There is something odd about Australia. Our politicians expend huge resources and even more hot air wrangling over how to exclude a pitifully small number of legitimate Asian and Middle Eastern refugees from our shores, while they allow, almost without a murmur, the purchase of Cubbie Station, the largest landholding in the country, comprising a number of properties the size of the ACT, by a consortium headed by a Chinese enterprise, Shandong Ruyi.”

What’s not odd is the all too familiar way authorities rush to scapegoat. They duck and weave to evade responsibility. In this popular political pantomime, it is forbidden to admit the role of climate change or of disastrous mismanagement.

Officials are quick to claim the fish are killed by a toxic algal bloom but locals say the primary cause of the catastrophe is poor water management and irrigation agriculture. The drought and algal bloom are secondary stressors on a system which has failed to use water specially allocated to protect the foundations of the river’s aquatic ecosystems.

“Droughts would have contributed to the blue green algae outbreak,” says Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, “But the river droughts are happening more often and they’re more intense as a result of the irrigation industry in the Darling diverting water from the river over the last 10 to 20 years.”

Leading scientists agree.

The NSW Irrigators Council would have us believe it is all about the drought. It isn’t. It about taking too much water upstream so there is not enough for downstream users, and the fish,” says Professor Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance.

What would Grafton know? He’s just a scientist. In the media show which follows, it’s all the fault of the drought of course. In a rare display of synchronised swimming, Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, climate change denier David “don’t give a rat’s” Littleproud, ducks for cover, as does his counterpart, NSW Primary Industries and Water Resources Minister Niall Blair in a hilarious visit to Menindee, where he is seen in a boat speeding past a group of local protestors – only for safety reasons, of course, a technicality which local police do not support.

Unsafe at any speed, The MDBA has, of course, long been warned by scientists that things are hotting up in the basin; hotter periods are lasting longer. Climate change can happen very rapidly and abruptly. Even to denialists.

NSW Labor wants a special inquiry into the ecological catastrophe – as if there’s been no Royal Commission. They want a commission or an inquiry to determine why the Liberals and Nationals sought “changes to water rules that reduced river flows and allowed the over-extraction of water by lobbyist irrigators who were National Party donors”, while ignoring warnings from the Wentworth Group of Scientists and local communities.

Professor John Quiggan has the last word by reminding us that irrigation never was the solution. He notes that agricultural economists recognised long ago that the environment in Australia, especially in areas like Menindee, was not suited to irrigated agriculture. Yet, as he wryly notes, the converse recognition, that irrigation schemes are often disastrous for the environment, came much later. Or as in the case of the MDBA, or the National Party not at all.

The stink from Menindee ought to be enough to bring down any respectable government. On the other hand, it is clearly capable of distracting the Morrison government into outrageous, ill-considered and divisive stunts like his new edict for Australia Day.

In all the fizz and the fuss over the fiasco that is the MDBA debacle, not to mention the frenzy of finding scapegoats and blame-shifting and just plain lying it is worth taking a longer, broader view especially as Australia Day approaches, albeit still on the 26 January. Above all it is worth recalling the rights and the role of the traditional owners of the land and their suffering both past and present – for it far surpasses, in all dimensions, the losses of the corporate cotton farmer.

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  1. whatever

    And, water is now allocated for mining ventures. Fracking needs lots of water.

  2. Ken

    With an election coming up the LNP might get off their backsides and do something but they are probably incapable of doing anything properly.

  3. Pappinbarra Fox

    I would much prefer the LNP did nothing. If they do nothing the at least they are not positively f*cking it up more worser.

  4. LOVO

    David, a timely article. Thank you.
    Many people in the Far West area have been trying to save the Darling/Barka River for many years. It is sad that an ecological disaster has pushed the situation into the limelight, but having said that, now that it is ‘front and centre’ in the current news cycle many locals hope that, finally, something will be done.
    United we Stand…. We want Action…We Refuse to Lose. ….

  5. New England Cocky

    Uhm David ….. your sentiments are excellent while your analysis needs to checkout the Facebook pages where various sources are collected details this tragic disaster created by the National$ Party relying upon broad acre farmers in SW Qld and NW NSW for huge political donations that allow these water thieves to build levee banks to keep every drop of water that falls as rain on their properties, to pump MDB environmental flows with impunity because it is not their fault that the river flowed upstream to the pumps, to disconnect archaic water measuring devices from the pumps to obfuscate real total pumping, and, after all, it is “Our Right” to pump water from rivers for agriculture.

    Michael Daley, Labor NSW Opposition Leader released a press statement from NSW Fisheries showing that POLITICIANS WERE WARNED IN 2012 that these tragic events were likely given the policies failing to regulate and punish where necessary broad acre farmers who were stalking MDB environmental water flows. Indeed, some pundits see this whole matter as the start of the “Water Wars” between the people in urban regional communities and multinational mining and agriculture corporations and foreign government entities.

    The solution to this disaster is to require each and every water pump in the MDB to fit a satellite monitoring device as part of water license requirements downloading real time data about pump activity, duration and volumes of water pumped. This should be supplemented with loss of water pumping rights during the most critical stages of cotton plant development and prison time for water thieves when a conviction occurs.

    Check out the following Facebook pages where hundreds of disenchanted persons have posted data and evidence of deliberate reckless neglect by Liarbral Notional$ politicians:

    We loathe Barnaby and Broad https://www.facebook.com/groups/163781410846186/

    Armidale NSW Scandals https://www.facebook.com/ArmidaleScandals/

    I should disclose that I have the misfortune of having Barnyard Joke as the representative of the Notional$ Party in my electorate of New England.

  6. Keitha Granville

    when did anyone think Australia could or should grow cotton ? when do we learn to live WITH our country ?

    If it’s not already too late, it won’t be long.

  7. Keith

    Thank you David.
    It is little wonder that Morrison has created a diversion, through making citizenship ceremonies compulsory on Australia Day. Such a command is anti-democratic and does not take into account Aboriginal views. What is happening in the Murray Darling Basin is a disaster for communities, for native animals, and for agriculture except cotton farming. It provides a huge red flag in how the Great Artesian Basin is treated. The disaster will be a beacon displaying greed, corruption, and inept management up until the next election.

  8. Egalitarian

    The LNP certainly know how to wreck a country.

  9. David Tyler

    New England Cockie – thank you for the FB links. And your support. I will investigate further when I return from town. As your MP, Barnaby would appear to have sold you down the river. Not sure if there’s any part of “Weatherboard and Iron” devoted to his subversion of the Water Act of 2007 but by 2011 it was effectively undermined.

    Keitha – Michael West publishes an excellent account of the irrigation folly by a writer who prefers to remain anonymous. https://www.michaelwest.com.au/

    SA State Library tells us that Experimental rain grown cotton crops were first trialled in Queensland in the mid 1800s and production slowly increased until the 1930s when world prices fell enough for production to cease. In the 1950s and 1960s irrigated cotton production began and by the 1970s commercial production of irrigated cotton accelerated rapidly.

    Today, cotton is mainly grown in the Northern part of the Murray-Darling Basin, along the Darling River and near the tributaries in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. About 80 per cent of cotton crops are grown under irrigation. The Murray-Darling Basin accounts for over 93 per cent of Australia’s raw cotton production, with an annual production of approximately 680 000 tonnes, fluctuating under drought conditions and subject to highly variable world prices. By international standards the quality of Australian cotton is very high. To read more about cotton growing in Australia see the Cotton Australia website.

    Cubbie station makes around $40 to $50 million per year for its consortium of owners. But don’t forget rice.

    Most of Australia’s rice is also grown within the Murray-Darling Basin. In 1924 rice production began around the townships of Leeton and Griffith in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Rice is now the major irrigated cereal crop and is grown entirely in the Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys of New South Wales. The annual rice production in Australia is between 1 and 1.7 million tonnes, with 1.2 million tonnes produced in 2002. Rice requires more water to grow than cotton. The Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Inc website has more information.

    Yet the ABS begs to differ at least on earlier figures: Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals cotton was “consistently the crop with the highest water consumption” from 2000-01 to 2005-06, followed by dairy farming, growing pasture for livestock and rice.

    ABARES figures however show rice requires more water than cotton to produce a crop (12.6 megalitres per hectare), while fruit and nut trees are not as thirsty (requiring 5.6 megalitres per hectare), and cut flowers and turf use 4.9 megalitres per hectare.

    The largest area of irrigated land in Australia in 2013-14 was pasture and cereal crops used for grazing, which accounted for 30 per cent of the total area irrigated.

  10. Miriam English

    Maybe this is why the Russians don’t need to interfere in Australia — the LNP are doing such a great job of destroying our country on their own.

  11. RomeoCharlie29

    An excellent article which must be shared more widely in the hope it will encourage a few LNP supporters of conscience (if such exist) to shift their votes away.

  12. Terence Mills

    The more you research this scam it is clear that the stench is not only dead fish but also the federal National party and their former leader. This from February, 2018 :

    One of Australia’s biggest corporate cotton farms has been quietly gifted a year of free access to large volumes of scarce irrigation water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin under a deal negotiated last year by Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.

    In a move that has angered ­locals in western NSW, ASX-listed agribusiness Webster — Australia’s largest owner of water entitlements — has been able to grow a $35 million cotton crop this summer on its vast Tandou Farm near Broken Hill using irrigation water from the troubled Darling River.

    Yet last June Webster sold Tandou Farm’s full annual water licence of 21,900 megalitres back to the federal government in a controversial buyback deal personally negotiated with Mr Joyce, then federal agriculture and water ­minister.

    Webster was paid $78m from the public purse, three times the going value of Lower Darling water entitlements and more than double the price recommended to the commonwealth by its in-house advisers, the Australia ­Bureau of Agricultural Economics and ­Sciences.

    But the deal — which is being investigated as part of a larger NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into water management in NSW — also allowed Webster to grow a final cotton crop on scarce Darling River water at Tandou in the 2017-18 financial year, despite ­having forfeited its water access rights.

    That’s $112 million of taxpayer funds to one station, Tandou [The first of these was the purchase of $34 million of supplementary water rights, described locally as “empty buckets of water”, sold to the federal government during the Millennium drought in 2008 by Tandou Station.]

    Webster, a Tasmanian company, is also one of Australia’s biggest water traders. Its shareholders include Australian Food and Fibre, which is controlled by the Robinson family, a major donor to the National Party.

    The outcome from this $112 million investment of taxpayer funds is that Webster will decommission the irrigated horticultural enterprise at Tandou and return the property to dry-land farming. They will take all the promised jobs and economic activity with them to their northern NSW holdings, where they get to intercept the water before it enters the Darling River.

    This is the real kicker – the $112 million water “buyback” will do nothing to benefit the river or water users downstream.

  13. Kaye Lee

    (its final report is with government on the understanding that it will be released in 2019)

    On a slightly different but related topic, I have been trying for months to ascertain when the five-yearly State of the Forests Report, which was due in 2018, will be released. It always results in me being transferred around to people who know nothing about it. A woman just rang me back to say, at this stage, they are thinking about some time in February.

    If they think I am going to forget about it, they are wrong. It should make for very interesting reading because the claimed emissions reduction for land use changes has not been verified by satellite images for over 2 years.

    “Complete sets of processed satellite images are not yet available to support the calculation of emissions estimates for 2017 and 2018. Therefore, these preliminary estimates are subject to change and have a greater level of uncertainty than the other sectors in the national inventory.”

    My guess is that, if honestly done, it will reveal rampant land-clearing which will make a mockery of their claim that “In 2017-18, the LULUCF sector accounted for a net sink of 4 per cent of Australia’s national inventory.”

    This obfuscation is unacceptable and is potentially setting up a time bomb for an incoming government.

  14. 245179

    At what point do voters say ENOUGH, and mean it. Voters read/see/hear of appauling govts decisions / rorts / whatever, and still revote their local members back to canberra. The same members that continue shafting the country. The country deserves this outcome, because we do jack sh!t about it, We are indeed played for fools again and again.
    Tens of MILLIONS $$ are found to send off shore in “aide”, most of those funds probably goes into their beaurocracy managements, maybe even syphoned in part to private accounts ( most likely ). We are all having front row seats here to this countries degrading to a polluted dustbowl. It’s a pox on all of us, i fear for my grandchildren.

  15. Kaye Lee

    I took my two young nephews to the first March in March back in 2014. We talked about it before we went and I said it was their chance to say what was important to them. They made their own signs and, prophetically, they chose to write “Save the fish” accompanied by some great drawings.

    We adults are letting them down.

  16. Miriam English

    245179, actually, a pitifully small amount of money is sent to neighboring countries as aid. Each government decreases the amount (especially conservative governments) despite Australia being one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

    Our government is screwing us over, yes, but it isn’t by spending money on foreign aid — it’s by corrupt deals with their obscenely wealthy mates.

  17. Kaye Lee

    I would rather spend money on foreign aid, climate change and the environment than hundreds of billions on weapons and border security and medals for Home Affairs officers.

  18. DrakeN

    “Our government is screwing us over, yes, but it isn’t by spending money on foreign aid — it’s by corrupt deals with their obscenely wealthy mates.”

    Precisely, Miriam.

    Too few people are even aware of the ways in which politics, commerce and reigions ( the UNholy Trinity ) are acting in concert to screw over the general public.

    Folks – you have been, are being and forever will be “conned”.

  19. Joseph Carli

    I posted this ages ago (July 2017) after a first-hand view on what was going on in the MD-basin…

    Screwing the Murray / Darling Basin Plan.

    In light of the current concern about water rights in the Murray Darling Basin, I would like to offer this piece I wrote on our old community blog about the “perfect storm” existing amongst the smaller “generational farms” along this section where I live on the River. The cause of this concern is because of the creation of mega “Agricorp managed investment schemes” that have sprung up using irrigation to grow huge crops of veggies and nuts and fruits.

    Many of you would remember the collapse of “Great Southern” and “Timbercorp”, two mega Hedge-Fund / Managed Investment Schemes that bought up huge amounts of water licences along the Murray River. These and other schemes have dominated the water market and by sheer weight of numbers, have corrupted the cycle of produce markets and pricing…and have bumped up the cost of water for irrigation..

    Read on…

    Community Centralised Markets.

    Discussion Paper on Solutions for Sustainability of a Community.

    Listing the realities of farming in the Mid-Murray Council area..:

    a) That it is primarily an agricultural constituent…

    b) That the agriculture producers are mostly of generational owned small holdings..

    c) The imposts of market requirements, restrictions and pricing are more favoured to large holdings, large corporate agri-business and Managed Investment Scheme producers……

    The result being the development of a “perfect storm” of squeezed “family farms”, concentration of production to “outside interests” that export their produce, dumped excess commodities resulting in rock-bottom prices for produce and concentration of water allocation licences with corporate agri-business. The result could be a complete loss to the local community of independence in growth and supply of produce from family farming enterprises.

    Many might say..: “So what!..let the market decide.”…But it isn’t “the market” deciding…it’s “Fund – Managed” speculators with super capital, super credit and cross-border / cross-seasonal guarantees of profit margins protected against crop-failure by multi-location producers that, being so large and having the capacity to produce so much, they can control the wholesale price of produce by dumping or withdrawing commodities from a market that will eventually be reliant on their capacity….The smaller producer having neither the capacity, flexibility, nor the credit to “ride-out” long-term problems…add to the mix an uncertain climate, and we have that perfect storm mentioned above.

    The conundrum facing those many small farmers, is that having only a certain acreage, they can only grow a set amount of produce per acre..there are only so many onions that can be grown in every squ. metre, for instance..and because of their limited collateral with the small acreage, and their incapacity to compete with these mega farms, they are not well received by the banks who already are aware of their asset and growth capacity. So they are locked into a vicious cycle of not having enough land to compete with the agricorp output. They cannot compete with the wholesale price per kilo of produce marketed by the mega farms and they cannot get credit from a secure source to expand their acreage, nor afford to buy any more water licences for irrigation..a perfect storm.
    I spoke to one young couple in such a situation where they lamented borrowing some money just to get their goods to market, which only returned a fraction of the expected price, leaving them to say they would have been better off if they had let the crop rot in the ground.

    See this : http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2016-03-13/senate-report-mis-agribusiness-calls-for-protection-for-investor/7242216



    What can we do?

    Those mega-producers deliver their products either interstate or ship to ports for export way outside this council area…so they are not affected by local fluctuations, yet do have capacity to affect the viability of local produce with the flow-on pricing control from their mega production capacity….it is the smaller, family owned farms that are at risk and perhaps we can do something there. It is a new idea, building NOT on a cooperative of producers, though they would be good…it is a “market-oriented” proposal that would require a contract between individual parties..no different than the usual “contract to supply” of many businesses…it would require the Mid-Murray Council to become an “investor in the constituency” to supply locations and under-cover premises where a regular, consistent, semi-permanent stalls (much like the Adelaide Central Market) of local farmers could sell a huge variety of produce to local shoppers….produce such as vegetables, meats and fruit and even cereal grains in either bulk or packaged. Or ..there could be an emphasis on wholesale selling to many local country stores that would save transport time and costs for all parties while delivering fresh produce to local buyers on a more regular basis.

    Certainly, it is a bit of a BBQ. stopper….I believe we have the capability to do this… we have to think big…very big! We have quality growers of everything in the lines of veggies’ , meats, fruits and cereals…do we have the population of consumers to purchase? The population count of the Riverland area alone could add up to at least thirty or forty thousand people.. not all of them will shop at such a market, but ALL of them do eat!…If these “centralised” markets stayed open for say.. three consecutive days each, I would think they would be a goer…considering also the weekend tourist flows through the area..if council could obtain State or Federal monies to construct multi-purpose under-cover arenas with appropriate cold-store facilities…then it could be a goer…There would have to be at least four locations all operating simultaneously over three days, perhaps..one in Morgan, one in Blanchetown, one in Sedan and the other in Mannum….the multi-purpose arenas could be hired out on other days for other pursuits.

    Sure, this is a simplistic over-view of possibilities of de-centralising produce supply buying, that would involve cooperation and contractual certainties between council, growers and a willing-to-participate public….but what other choice is there? Just lay back and watch as all these hard-working, quality producing generational farms and families get squeezed out of the industry?… or do we affiliate and come together as a society and instead of ending up with a community that is depreciating and all our young people want to move away from, we become a community that is creating and not only do we get our young people to stay, but we attract more keen people to come to the area because they want to be a part of a growing community.

  20. Judith

    Are there any plans to relocate and compensate the locals who, faced with a week of heatwave temperatures, have no safe water for stock or bathing?
    BTW Another excellent and informative AIMN article. Kaye Lee, looking forward Reading your number crunching of the State of the Forests report.

  21. David Bruce

    Money talks and it seems to be the only language our politicians speak fluently?

    The South Pacific Islands are slowly recovering from the devastation caused by colonial rule and mega agri-business programs for copra, spices, other world market commodities and damaging weather conditions, including cyclones.

    Their approach is to follow the UN mandate for sustainable agriculture, fisheries and tourism. Australian Aid is in the forefront of these initiatives.

    Australia funded a program with the Fijian National University to develop a Resilience Training and Education program from Certificate 1 to research Masters degree. This program incorporates many of the units from the Sustainability program and is now fielded in the South Pacific Islands, and available for a wider audience.

    Perhaps we could practice what we preach?

  22. Kaye Lee


    Considering the runaround I have been getting, the lack of a release date, and the upcoming election, I have a bad feeling that they may not bother releasing it. They have enough problems already. But I will keep reminding them.

  23. 245179

    “Our government is screwing us over, yes, but it isn’t by spending money on foreign aid — it’s by corrupt deals with their obscenely wealthy mates.”

    Agree. ( i was not suggesting foreign aid “was” the reason / cause, for the screwing. ) My point was the govt / s can find large amounts of money for aid, whilst here at home we are desperate to solve home issues. Lack of funds or limited funds is sprewked as their defence. Indonesia in particular are recipients of generous aid from australia, they indonesia surely must think we are a soft touch for them.
    Here in my patch, the biggest dairy farmer is about to sell off his herd, after several generations, but the pittance of a return is just too hard. We’ll be importing milk powder is his prediction.

  24. Kaye Lee

    In case anyone was wondering what the leader of the Nationals is doing in the face of the Murray-Darling disaster…..

  25. helvityni

    David, you have done it again, you have not forgotten anything…

    Love the title of your article, I have cried for the dying fish that would have fed many…

    I forget the name of our Minister for Environment, same happens when I try remember who is Minister for Education…No wonder…

    I say it again: When will we ever learn…

  26. paul walter

    Just watching the subject on the Drum. the bleat was about what about the “stakeholders” (eg cotton growers. This makes me sick. because this form of agribusiness knew full well twenty years that what they did would be constructive vandalism and did it anyway.

    I want to hear about the “rights” of many farmers along the system who grow dryland crops and are not wasteful with water or feel the need to thieve it from their neighbours, and about the community in general, not selfish crooks.

  27. Kronomex

    Darn the environment and those endangered animals and plants! Now I’ll have mouth words that mean bugger all in the long run and which, hopefully, won’t upset our donors and Gina and the other…kiss…kiss…nice corporations.


    The LNP, some of whose mottos are, “Our cheeks are always open for your pushbikes.” and “It’s all Labor’s fault.” and “Climate change? What is this thing you call climate change?”

  28. New England Cocky

    @David Tyler: Thank you for the kind words. Cotton growing was resumed in the late 1960s by the family of an undergraduate colleague. It was considered a good risk and later attracted investment from a media magnate. Part of the success of cotton growing has been the long standing practice of ‘stealing’ water from the MDB over your recognised quota to increase acreage and so profits. This is long recognised among local agricultural people and is the key reason for these fish kills.

    Don’t forget the corrupt practices exposed by the ABC sport in 2018.

    In terms of water efficiency the use of irrigation to grow both cotton and rice using MDB water is “stupid and short sighted”. Really, the hemp fibre industry should be as large as the present cotton industry for optimal water efficiency.

    @Kietha Granville: Since Europan occupation the most dangerous feral animals in W NSW have been pigs, cats, wild dogs, goats, sheep, camels, cattle and the most dangerous of all, the short sighted grazier.

    Read “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe to see the impact of Europeans upon ‘traditional’ farming methods.


  29. Paul Davis

    The Donald writ small. LOL

  30. Matters Not

    No doubt the MDB is a disaster for the reasons outlined above, but let’s not forget there’s a bigger picture as well. I’ve lived on the shores of Moreton Bay for more than 50 years and increasingly we experience a number of different bloom-forming alga species including red, brown and green macroalgae, cyanobacteria (blue green algae), dinoflagelates and diatoms.

    The public advice is that one should not swim or wade in these areas and avoid direct contact with material washed onto the beach. Anecdotally, I can attest that these ‘blooms’ are much more frequent – the cause is probably linked to climate change. This bigger picture should not be forgotten. Never let a chance go by.

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