As I speak communities throughout rural New South Wales are living in fear that they may not have water as early as next month.
How can this Government explain to the people of towns such as Dubbo, Cobar, Nyngan and Narromine that they may not have sufficient water supply going into what is predicted to be our hottest summer on record? All around our State people have fallen victim to years of water mismanagement, neglect and blame shifting from this Government. After countless inquiries, commissions, consultations and photo opportunities of pollies in akubras playing with dry dirt, this Government continues to fail to implement a proper plan to address the Murray-Darling water crisis, let alone a plan that takes into account the disastrous impacts of the climate emergency.
The crisis that the Murray-Darling Basin faces is vast and complex. Yet two key problems continue to be raised by scientists, communities and advocates: firstly, the Government has failed to create and implement an appropriate plan for the system; and secondly, financial interests, especially those of big irrigators, have been prioritised over the interests of smaller farmers, rural communities and the environment. Further, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan failed to account for the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. A government that has no substantial plan for climate change simply does not have a plan for the future of the Murray-Darling.
This is a plan that Commissioner Walker of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission described as influenced more by "politics rather than science." He could not be more accurate. Politics rather than science may as well be the title of the Coalition's policy playbook. The Coalition is compliant in the destruction of the basin. We need only to remember the low-flow event that saw one million fish die in the lower Darling this year. These events will continue as long as the Liberal-Nationals Government continues to ignore and fail to plan for the realities of climate change.
We often hear The Nationals almost religiously proclaim to be on the side of farmers and rural communities, yet they will immediately turn a blind eye to big irrigators and corporate interests who threaten these same communities. In the Barwon-Darling area big irrigators take 86 per cent of allocated water, with only four out of the 158 licences controlling 75 per cent How can this be fair or sustainable? It is not surprising that the people of Barwon chose to end 69 years straight of Nationals representation in the most recent election.
I can already hear the blame-shifting from those on the other side, maybe suggesting this is the responsibility of the Federal Government or irrigators or councils. Perhaps they will say "It's the drought, we can't make it rain". Maybe they will say they understand and it is time for another inquiry or hearing or listening tour. Irrigators blame the Government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority, then the Government blames the Opposition or the weather. It is time to stop passing the buck at the expense of people's livelihoods and at the expense of entire communities.
Recently we have seen the New South Wales Government attempt to create the illusion that it is taking this crisis seriously. Its brilliant solution is more dams, continued buy-backs and more relief funding. Dams ruin ecosystems and disrupt crucial environmental flows, and here is a fun fact: Dams do not create rain, much the same as opening a bank account does not get you more money.
If members are interested in making more money, they may want to get into the water commodities trade. Water buybacks pay quite nicely and you do not need to be in the farming business or even need water at all. You can simply trade water as if it was cryptocurrency. This open water trading system has disproportionately favoured large, wealthy irrigators while leaving smaller farmers and communities out of the market and having to negotiate with corporations for a basic human right—water.
The Australia Institute's Maryanne Slattery asserts that two of the main differences between this drought and the millennium drought are extraordinarily high water prices and an explosion in almond plantations. With potentially hundreds of our regional towns running out of water, almond plantations are still predicted to increase by 40 per cent by 2024 while the New South Wales Government still wants to issue new floodplain harvesting licences. This is madness. It suggests that governments have learnt nothing from the environmental catastrophe unfolding around us. I urge the Government to have the courage to stand up to the greedy corporate agribusinesses that are plundering the basin, to have the courage to stand for small farmers and communities and a healthy river system, to have the courage to establish a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin and to have the courage to acknowledge we are in a climate emergency.