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Murray Darling Basin plan must not become a political football

National public water rights and environmental advocacy group Fair Water Use is encouragedby the broad recommendations made in the guide to the draft Basin Plan released earlier today by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, but is concerned that Federal and State parliamentarians will use the forthcoming consultation period to justify softening of the Plan for short term electoral advantage, rather than to promote the long term interests of the river system and its communities.

The group’s national coordinator, Ian Douglas, commented this afternoon, "The progressive degradation of the Murray-Darling cannot be resolved without significant impact upon those who were previously encouraged by successive governments to overexploit the waters of the nation’s most vital rivers."

Fair Water Use believes that Australian governments must shoulder much of the blame for the crisis, as a result of a raft of inept policies, including the hyper-allocation of Murray-Darling water, the COAG decision of 1994 to develop a national "water industry" and the promotion of agribusiness-based managed investment schemes.

"Basin communities have themselves been exploited by Federal and State administrations and the pro-market lobby and have every right to feel aggrieved", Dr Douglas added.

A politically fudged and compromised Basin Plan will be no friend to those who seek to make responsible use of Murray-Darling water. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority must be allowed to develop its Basin Plan free from pressure from those who fail to grasp, or choose to ignore, the profound, long term, economic, social and environmental implications of a degraded Murray-Darling river system.

"Governments must now devise concerted regional development initiatives, to enable Basin communities to transition to a sustainable future," Dr Douglas concluded.

See also: Murray Darling Basin plan must not become a political football

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Overturning a century of greed to better manage the Murray-Darling will be a test of the nation, South Australian Premier Mike Rann says. "For 100 years this river system has been run in the most irresponsible way based on the lowest common denominator of states vetoing other states because of greed and sectional interest".

The long-term productivity and sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin is under threat from over-allocated water resources, salinity and climate change.

Water use in the Basin has increased five-fold in less than a century. The problems caused by over-allocation have been exacerbated by severe drought and the early impacts of climate change. Add population growth too! There is insufficient water to maintain the Basin's natural balance and ecosystems, resulting in a marked decline in its ecological health.

Many species that once were common are now rare and listed nationally for protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. At least 35 bird species and 16 mammals that live in the Basin are endangered. Twenty mammal species have become extinct since 1900 and Murray Cod, Australia's largest freshwater fish which was once widespread, is in severe decline.

In 2003, 80 per cent of the remaining River Red Gums on the Murray River floodplain in South Australia were stressed to some degree due to the combination of human activity and drought, and 20-30 per cent of those were severely stressed. With the ongoing drought the situation is significantly worse now.

We are supposed to reap Nature's excess, or bounty, not erode its "Capital" - the basic ecological structures that support the production of water! It's like burning a house's beams for firewood and calling it "sustainable"!

By 1994, 77% of the Murray River's annual flow was being diverted for human use, with 95% of this use being for agriculture. Environmental flows were conveniently forgotten in the race for agribusiness profits.

As a result, a lack of water has played havoc with rivers, wetlands, forests and floodplains.

At the economic root of the problem of the water crisis is the unsustainable over-allocation of water allowances in the Murray-Darling basin to farming, particularly the export-oriented agribusinesses.

Victoria exports around 85 per cent of Australia’s dairy product exports, worth around $2.3 billion in 2008-09. As such, returns to farmers are strongly connected to world dairy commodity and exchange markets. Dairy farmers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia will be impacted and are now facing an uncertain future. Dairy farming is responsible for the biggest allocations of water.

Australia could lose $805 million a year in agricultural production and 800 jobs, under a draft plan to revive the struggling Murray-Darling river system. That's the assessment of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The removal of vast areas of native vegetation (in some cases over 95% of areal extent) has resulted in 5–15% of rainfall leaking past the root zone over agricultural land. This has caused the changes in land and river salinity. Nevertheless native vegetation and re-vegetation has a most important role in salinity control. Maintenance of remnant native vegetation throughout the basin is a key target in order to conserve and maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services in conjunction with salinity control. The integration of native vegetation into landscape design is critical to halting further loss of species and ecosystem function. This should include wildlife too!

And the science indicates that there's no longer enough water in the rivers to keep the rivers alive.

Roy Hoskings, a rural supplier in the New South Wales Murrumbidgee region, says if the water allocation cuts of up to 45 per cent go ahead local produce such as carrots, onions, rockmelons and pumpkins will be affected.

Australia is already a net importer of food, and food exports need to be prioritized to provide for Australians first and foremost. Proposed drastic cuts to water allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin will hit farmers from Griffith to Narrabri and send supermarket prices soaring, industry experts said.

Economically, through exports of its wheat, wool and meat, it has underpinned Australia’s early economic development, although today its agricultural products represent only 2% of GDP and 4% of export earnings. Currently, over a third of the food for Australia’s own consumption is grown in the Basin.

We already are facing record high prices for water, power and housing. Now food prices will increase. Why then are we continuing to increase our population in face of more "shortages" - this time of food production?

The farmers have been deceived by mis-management and incompetence from successive governments. We have Ministers for the Environment, Climate Change, Water, Agriculture, all making so-called "sustainable" policies. Farmers assume they are reliable and plant their crops and buy assets - assuming that "business as usual" is OK! Water allotments have increased over the century, and it is clearly NOT sustainable. Now they have to cope with heavily reduced allocations and ruin? No wonder farmers are angry.

The farmers have been deceived by incompetent governments running an economy, for profits and exports and increased GDP and ignoring the environment - the structure that keeps our planet going and provides our food and water. They are destroying the goose that laid the golden egg.

Our politicians are out of their depth and not qualified in vital areas of expertise. Why are we thus increasing our population? Dick Smith and Prof Julian Cribb are right - we could be facing disasters in the future for lack of food!

We are being viewed as a global resource rather than a sovereign nation. Australia now is barely a nation at all! Our farmland and food production companies are being freely sold to overseas investors. Fewer and fewer people participate in their communities, especially in our cities, where a suburb is a place to stay until you've paid off enough of your house to move to somewhere better.
We have more and more diversity, to the extent that we can no longer be sure what the values of our neighbours are. Our culture of "multicultural" means that we really have no mainstream unified culture, or consensus, at all!
Those who come here to live also view us as a resource to improve their status and personal wealth. A place to escape to in times of trouble, or a place to make money before eventually returning home. Citizenship is given away cheaply. It's just another thing to buy.
There's little sense that Australia is a nation, a group of unified peoples working together. On the contrary, Chinese economic expansion is driven by Chinese nationalism. Many of their state-owned businesses are successful. Their successes are sources of pride in being Chinese, being a primarily homogeneous people. The same can be said of Indians. No wonder people think Australians are lazy, that the West is doomed, and that we ought to allow them to buy everything because we are not competent to manage it ourselves. We ostensibly don't have enough "skills" or drive to work hard create a successful nation.
Our leaders are some of the most uninspiring people in the world. By the time what is left of what used to be Australia wakes up our of their slumber and stupor, they will not form a big enough chunk of the electorate to make a change! We will be consumed into part of the "globe" or SE Asia - as a non-entity!

According to CSIRO scientist Peter Carberry, lack of fertilizers and population growth, combined with climate change, will challenge our agriculture industry like never before. He says we are facing an agricultural revolution similar to the Green Revolution that followed World War II. However, as Ferry and Gatehouse reported in their 2009 analysis of the impact of genetically modified crops, this came at a price, required substantial inputs of fertilisers and pesticides and gave rise to the widespread use of monoculture as an agricultural system.

The industrialisation of our food supply means that our current production is extremely oil intensive. It has been calculated that, on average, it takes ten calories of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of food in our current setup.

Carberry says population growth and increased wealth in countries such as China and India mean there are new and increased demands for food. Supply issues such as land degradation and the growth of biofuels will also play a role.

Up to half the planet may face regular drought by the end of the century. “Unnatural disasters”— storms, floods, droughts, and sea- level rise— are predicted to become more frequent and intense, with adventitious impacts on food security, refugee waves, and conflict.

The stockpile of wheat has dropped to its lowest level since 1980 - sufficient to feed the world for just 12 weeks. Food prices are soaring worldwide, while crude oil prices have doubled shipping and fertiliser costs. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that by 2050, grain output has to rise 50% and meat output has to double.

Food Production is now the last bastion of predominantly local ownership in the food chain. But with increasing interest by foreign companies - and governments, including China's - quality farmland is also a target. In short, Australians are in danger of becoming servants, not masters, of their own food resources. Wealthy Asian countries "are seeking to acquire land as part of a long-term strategy for food security". (SMH report)

Considering that a large part of our population actually came here to escape starvation during the Irish Potato famine, engineered in part by the British owners of Irish agriculture, then perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the entire issue of foreign ownership and to re-examine what we mean by independence and what sort of country we wish to be.

How are we planning for the supply of healthy and affordable food needed for an increasing population, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the most of our diminishing supply of water? Allocating prime food production land to housing construction illustrates the lack of public consultation and arrogance in the politicians and developers.

The demise of the Murray Darling food bowl do wo overallocation, salination of soils, depletion of fertilizers, population blowout, and foreigners prowling the planet for land for their own food security, it is too much a vital issue to be in the hand of our incompetent politicians whose mindsets are totally immersed in short-term economic benefits rather than long term strategies to secure our future. Why are we still increasing our population?

Emphasis added. - Editor

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