The $23.75 million government purchase of Toorale station no doubt has the odd green and some South Australian water drinkers wetting themselves, not to mention providing Penny Wong with a chance to claim she’s actually doing something. Too bad it will probably end up as an environmental disaster.

As real environmentalists know, tinkering with any environment is a very tricky thing. More simplistic souls, often with an anti-farming bias, think you can just buy Toorale’s 91,383 hectares, smash its dams, hand it over to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and watch all the rivers suddenly run. Sigrid Thornton will come round the bend in a paddle steamer any minute now.

Buying the property is the easy bit. After that, it gets hard.

For a start, the NSW government is involved. That’s the broke, hapless and hopeless NSW government, the one that didn’t adequately increase NPWS funding to handle the extra land Bob Carr declared national parks.

If Toorale is simply allowed to go feral — and the NPWS can’t afford to do more than that — there’s every chance it will end up a woody weed desert. Woody weeds are already a major disaster in semi-arid country where marginal farmers have been unable to maintain their properties. It’s a biodiversity problem fingered by the Department of Climate Change and, what sweet irony, it’s being made worse by blanket bans on land clearing.

Furthermore, Toorale’s dams weren’t built yesterday. The grand old station’s water management system is the environment for the Warrego/Darling junction and have been for a century. As sure as the Law of Unintended Consequences rules, watch for the stories down the track about the decimated wildlife that had depended on Toorale’s water.

Without water storage, invaded by unchecked woody weeds, Toorale will become rubbish – environmentally vandalised by the city environmentalists.

And as for the present problems of the Darling, there’s been precious little agriculture carried out on Toorale these several years of drought. Some of the green claims uncritically reported trotted out in the media are hilarious. Try this bit of nebulous number manufacturing from anonymous sources in The Age:

The 91,000-hectare cotton station was estimated by conservationists to be holding up to 20 billion litres of water and to have extracted about 200 billion litres last summer.

Plenty of river folk would love to know how and from what the 200 billion were extracted. It didn’t exist.

But let’s all feel good about our taxes wiping out what was, in good seasons, a proud, productive and historic agricultural enterprise.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW