John Hunwick, environmental educator and activist, writes: I have no special expertise on the condition of the Murray-Darling Basin. My lifelong interest has been in understanding ecology and how that understanding becomes part of the community’s understanding of how our environment works.
Inevitably, living in South Australia I have been made aware of every “advance” made in relation to “managing” the Murray River since the 1970s. Every change is hailed as the answer to fixing the river system with unending prosperity just around the corner. Whenever this happened I instinctively, then cognitively understood that this was not going to happen.
Then came the Murray Darling Basin Authority and its draft to the guide released a year ago. I thought this might just break the pattern of action achieving nothing and actually make progress. The report itself had as its foundation that the river needed an injection of 4000-7000 gigalitres to restore its ecological functioning to something that could actually be sustainable. At last — the basis of a proper management plan.
Its release was so badly bungled that before anyone had actually read it, it was condemned and being thrown into the flames by the very people who actually need a vibrant, ecologically sound river system on which to live. No attempt was made to introduce and explain the guide to all and sundry. A barrage of questions were heaped on the commissioners without anyone really listening to the answers, when they were given.
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Fury spread like wildfire and it soon became obvious that no matter what the merits of the report, it was not going to be listened to. Resignations followed and inevitably a new report commissioned.
Now that is has been released, within minutes it seemed that every stakeholder representative was opposed to it, even if they could not tell you what the guide actually said. Instead of concluding that there must be something wrong with the guide, it is now being hailed as the answer, after all if everyone rejects it is obviously not favouring one side or any other. If that is the basis of natural resource management, no wonder the country is in a mess, particularly when it comes to water management.
Was there no one who actually understood the situation, and the basis on which it needed to be sorted out? Fearful that once again there was going to be a fiasco, (and there still might be) I wondered if there was any chance for the MDBA even at this late stage.
Then, light at the end of the tunnel! The Federal Minister for Agriculture Tony Bourke came to Adelaide to discuss the guide with the Premier Jay Weatherill. Bourke tried to persuade the Premier the proposed “agreement” between the states should be accepted by South Australia because if it didn’t it would be the worst outcome for the state.
Then came the reply from the premier, that should give cause to all other states to pause and consider what they are really doing. Weatherill is reported as saying “I don’t believe any reform is good reform”. I take that to mean that in some instances no reform is better than a bad one that does not do the job but allows everyone involved feel that the situation has actually been fixed. He went on: “We will only sign up to a plan which protects the river based on science, not on politics”.
Until everyone in the river basin and who is striving to fix the problems comes to understand and accept that simple insight the situation will only continue to deteriorate.
The time has now come to get rid of all this messing around and give primacy to the recovery of the river system if we really want it to be sustainable for generations into the future. Of course, proper provision for those caught up in this situation must be made and implemented. But for those demanding that an inadequate water supplement is sufficient for the next seven to eight years, tell ’em they’re dreaming.