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Parliamentary process fails the Murray-Darling

Media Release: 13th October 2008

The rejection of the findings of the Senate Enquiry into the Coorong and the Lower Lakes and the issuing of an alternate minority report1 by the well-intentioned senators who called for the enquiry is further confirmation that the Murray-Darling crisis cannot be resolved by parliamentary process alone.

On returning to Australia today, the national coordinator of Fair Water Use, Dr Ian Douglas, repeated calls for the declaration of a State of Emergency, giving the Federal Government total control of Murray-Darling water resources and the powers to turn around the progressive ecological and social demise of the Basin, whilst a Royal Commission reviews its administration and governance.

"Australians are rapidly losing patience with its elected representatives on this vital issue", Dr Douglas stated. "We appear to have reached the point where our parliamentarians have run out of options and are left bickering amongst themselves in attempts to gain political brownie points."

"As long as the health of the Basin continues to be subject to the self-interest of state governments which render the Federal Government almost impotent on the issue, it will be impossible to take meaningful action to address the underlying causes and not just the symptoms of the crisis."

"Recent rains may have provided some short-term respite to the Lower Lakes, but this is only one aspect of a Basin-wide predicament and the underlying problem of mismanagement remains. Given BOM and CSIRO predictions, it is frightening to contemplate the state of the Basin in a few years time, if matters are left to take their current course", Dr Douglas concluded.

Catastrophes such as occurred in the Aral Sea clearly demonstrate that social and economic collapse follows close on the heels of ecological degradation.

Fair Water Use has contacted the Prime Minister, the Federal Water Minister and the Federal Minister for the Environment seeking the reasons why they are resisting calls for a State of Emergency and the establishment of a Royal Commission of Enquiry.

Contact: Ian Douglas 0416-022178
Authorised by: Ginny Brown, Media Coordinator media [AT] fairwateruse.com.au +61 (0)414 914248

Fair Water Use (Australia) +61 (0)8 8398 0812
PO Box 384, Balhannah, South Australia 5242
www.fairwateruse.com.au

Footnotes

1. Both the minority and majority reports can be found within the 1.2M pdf file to be found here.


Appendix 1: Letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

13th October 2008

The Prime Minister,
Parliament House,
Canberra

Dear Prime Minister,

Given the failure of the Senate Enquiry into the Coorong and Lower Lakes to come to terms with the underlying anthropogenic causes of the current water crisis, as would be expected given its parochial terms of reference, I am sure that you appreciate that much of the Murray-Darling Basin is still on the verge of ecological collapse.

Should this occur, sadly your government will be remembered domestically and internationally as the regime that oversaw the greatest preventable environmental catastrophe thus-far encountered by this country. The complex and vital ecology of the Basin will not survive the continuing abuse and overuse of its dwindling water resources. Catastrophes such as occurred in the Aral Sea clearly demonstrated that social and economic collapse follows close on the heels of ecological degradation.

As coordinator of this national group, I would like to ask whether you are giving urgent consideration to:

  1. the declaration of a State of Emergency to enable your Government to override the self interest of the States and allow meaningful action to be taken to address the multiple, non-drought, causes of the crisis.
  2. the establishment of a Royal Commission of Enquiry into the management and governance of the Murray-Darling Basin: past, present and future.

If you are not contemplating the above actions, we would ask you to detail the reasons why you feel that the crisis does not justify such an approach.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Ian Douglas
National Coordinator

Appendix 2: Greens Media release Monday 13 October 2008

Greens won't give up on Lakes and Coorong communities

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Greens will continue to stand up for the communities of the Lower Lakes and Coorong and step up the call for fresh water flows to the parched lower Murray, despite the majority report from a Senate Inquiry saying there is not enough water in the system to help the situation.

The Australian Greens have released a minority report on the Water Management in the Lower Lakes and Coorong Inquiry, recommending 60 gigalitres of fresh water be sourced from the 1500 gigalitres currently available in the southern Murray-Darling Basin.

"The Government has just run up the white flag on this issue," said Senator Hanson-Young.

"It will be the communities around the lakes and Coorong, who are already struggling, who will pay the biggest price.

"If you actually look at the evidence that was presented by witnesses at the Inquiry hearings, it's clear to see that there is enough accessible water in the basin to ensure that we don't go past the critical tipping point.

"What's missing from this sorry situation is the political will. It beggars belief that the Government thinks it's all too hard to source just 60 gigalitres to tide these communities over until spring next year, while we make the necessary changes for the longer-term."

Senator Hanson-Young said that aside from the environmental catastrophe that will ensue if more fresh water is not brought down to the lower Murray, there will be a disastrous impact on the economic and social fabric of the lower Murray communities.

"During the Inquiry we heard from those who live and work around the Lakes and Coorong of the acute impact being felt by the business and wider communities there," she said.

"The Coorong Council tells us that a school there has lost a fifth of their enrolments as young families move elsewhere for better opportunities. The real estate market and tourism industry are both dramatically down on previous years.

"This the human impact of environmental mismanagement."

Senator Hanson-Young called again for a taskforce to be set up to assess the scientific, engineering and economic options for securing the long-term health of the Coorong and Lower Lakes, as was moved for by the Senate last month.

"With the unexpectedly good rain over winter, we dodged a bullet," she said.

"We cannot waste this opportunity to get things right.

"Let's move from talk to action, set up this taskforce, and get solutions underway for the sake of our Storm Boy country."

For more information: Gemma Clark on 0427 604 760

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