Friday 1 February 2019

The Menindee Fish Kill Whodunit: Solved!

Ever since the Menindee catastrophe happened our beloved leaders have offered their explanations for the mystery: dats Shtraya, mite, sometimes it dont rain (Michael McCormack); Phillip Glyde would probably say something about “evaporation”. Perhaps we should pray to Gawd, would be Scott Morrison’s wisdom.

Well, mystery solved.

Cotton farms at Bullamon Plains, Queensland. This
farm is a Cubbie style operation. Image Credits: Rex Patrick.

The Moonie river passing Bullamon Plains
farm and the offtake channel. Image Credits: Rex Patrick.

Vast expanses of cotton fields and associated
water storages in Queensland. Image Credits: Rex Patrick.

The problem, reports Centre Alliance SA Senator Rex Patrick, is not that there’s no water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin. The problem is that what water there is, doesn’t make it to the rivers:
At Dubbo, where I started my journey this morning, there was 1665 ML of water flowing along the Macquarie River. By the time I had driven 3 hours north, level with Carinda, the river flows had dropped to zero.
What happened in that short distance? That entire 1665 ML has been taken by irrigators - by the many farms I had passed along the road. I could see some of that water in the channels (some lined, some unlined) next to some cotton fields.
That’s what locals have been saying all along. Patrick’s findings, too, are consistent with the ABC Four Corner’s July 24 2017 report “Pumped: Who’s benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling?”. And I must apologise to readers if I sound repetitive, but I most definitely recommend that report.

That is not meant to deny Rex Patrick plaudits, but photos like those aren’t new. The one below is older and tells the same story:

Billions of litres were being diverted
for irrigation, in breach of the deal. (source)

Amazing how a little brains and willingness to do some legwork helps.


After the Menindee ongoing catastrophe, two official, voluminous studies dealing on related matters have been been made public: the Productivity Commission’s Five-Year Assessment and the SA Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission Report. Not counting supporting material (issues paper, draft reports, witness statements, public hearings transcripts, submissions and sundry official correspondence) that’s about 1.2 thousand pages in dense bureaucratic language/legalese.

No wonder, then, that media reports attempting to provide a more in-depth coverage require a team of journalists (example).

And that is before mentioning the avalanche of semi-official government bodies’ and political parties’ media/press releases, news articles and opinion pieces.

I might be stating the obvious -- but it deserves to be remarked nonetheless given petty bourgeois, liberal/leftish intellectuals’ broken-record criticism of the alleged cognitive disabilities of the “(white) working class” -- that in a situation like this it becomes difficult for a common member of the public, however dedicated, to have a clear picture of the events.

That situation explains what to me looks like a common misconception among the public (including those self-assessed informed intellectuals). I’ve heard it expressed in conversation and it seems to underlie a lot of the journalistic reporting. It goes something like this: the Murray-Darling Basin Authority failed miserably (as reality dramatically illustrates and as one can legitimately conclude from those two reports), therefore, to fix the Basin’s problems one needs only to fix the MDBA. After all, “unwilling or incapable of acting lawfully”, the MDBA has been accused (and the evidence seems overwhelming) of gross maladministration, negligence, the environment wasn’t prioritised and ignored climate change.

The idea is that the relationship MDBA/Basin States is something like this:

In that view, the MDBA processes information, reaches conclusions, and issues orders. It’s a coordinator. The Basin States execute those orders.

That scheme makes intuitive sense.

Appealing as it is, however, there are two problems with it: that’s not how it works, and it provides a cover to State governments (hence, NSW Primary Industries minister Niall Blair’s use of that notion) and other agents, like big farmers/irrigators.

The opening photos provide an eloquent argument why big farmers/irrigators are a problem. Let’s turn now to State politicians and authorities.

How the Commonwealth and States share responsibilities in water policy is a complex issue (PDF) and, in the particular case of the Murray-Darling Basin, the Basin States kept their water management responsibilities, while the Commonwealth is responsible for the environment. In more ways than one, the relationship is often the inverse of what that organogram suggests.

At any event, the Royal Commission report was received with an outcry by State politicians in government. One of them (wait for more details) promised chaos for rural communities if more water was allocated to the river system. Business and employment would face extinction. Famine and pestilence would follow. Fire and brimstone. In defense of the interests of those very same communities that they love dearly they shall fight any concession to their dying breath.

How can one explain that inability to perceive the reality those photos above and hundreds of photos of dead fish and dry land convey?

The usual ready-made explanations liberal/leftish intellectuals have at hand are:
  1. This must be a National/Liberal thing. They are the pro-business party.
  2. This must be a men thing, for only men can be that close-minded.
  3. This is idiocy.
  4. The problem is that it takes highfalutin science to understand that.
Let’s consider them one by one.

#1 is false. The four Basin States are ruled by both the Coalition (South Australia and New South Wales) and Labor (Victoria and Queensland). That I know, politicians from NSW and VIC were the ones howling the loudest.

#2, as well, is false. Although they all in general terms repeated the same trite bullshit (like this tribe of troglodytes), the one I have in mind is Lisa Neville (Labor VIC).

Readers know I don’t like #3. However, in this case -- I must admit -- I find it hard to dismiss it, because what Neville and her colleagues apparently fail to understand is the obvious point that without the environment there will be no communities, rural or urban, no business, no jobs. Period. End of story. They, like David Littleproud, may not give a rats’ ass about those things they need, but they still need them.

So if politicians can’t see that, they must be extremely dumb. Still, Rex Patrick is a politician. He was smart and competent enough to go there and check things in person. Are Neville and her National colleagues so much dumber and inept? Is Patrick the only exception among politicians? Or there’s something else behind that “idiocy”?

It can’t be #4, for Australian high-school kids can understand that. And it’s just no rocket science: just have a look at the damned photos. Are Aussie politicians that ignorant and clueless?

Their protestations of eternal love for rural communities and farmers sound hypocritical because Menindee and the homesteads affected are precisely that and they are already deprived of water. Without that they’ll have no business, no jobs, no life, no nothing. Where’s all that love for the Menindee people? Or that stubborn, knee-jerk reaction is due to their love for only some farmers?

I get the impression part of the answer is that creatures like Neville put that aside as someone else’s problem: “That’s NSW’s problem”. Nat Neanderthals believe that’s just SA whingeing, don’t they? Well, too bad, people, because the environment doesn’t recognise borders.

The bottom line is this: whatever the cause of their inaction, we can’t expect anything from those people. We know the MDBA doesn’t work, we know fixing it won’t solve the whole problem, we know big farmers have a lot of fault and we know politicians won’t do shit. If something is going to be done, we better do it ourselves and the sooner the better.

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