Andrew & Louise Burge, flood affected farmers from Deniliquin

Andrew & Louise Burge, flood affected farmers from Deniliquin

Harold Clapham, Deniliquin, NSW writes:

The events of the last 8 weeks have compelled me to write and express my awe as to the resilience and commitment within rural and regional Australia, which is an often maligned and ignored part of Australia.  These wonderful traits are tempered by the abhorrence and ignorance with which they are treated by other sectors of the Australian community.

Two events of the last weekend have helped to highlight “the great divide”.

The record books will reveal that on Saturday, 15th October 2016, The Hillston Cricket Club forfeited their cricket match. The records should state that they were unable to compete, “as they were serving a greater good”. They were sandbagging Hillston to protect the community from the flood waters moving down the Lachlan River. Certainly, not a forfeit.

On Sunday the ABC 7.00 pm news reported on the flood events east of Deniliquin, an event that has caused enormous personal and economic hardship.

The subject matter of the report was the circumstance surrounding the properties of Andrew, Louise and Brian Burge, in an attempt to explain the extraordinary conditions that lead to these events. Louise is quoted as saying; "Yes, part of it is natural, we understand that, it's a wet year, it's an incredibly wet spring and yes, it's a high-risk flood year, but the height of this is unprecedented. The flooding had been worsened by a big release from the Hume Dam about a fortnight ago. Some of that water could have been released earlier, to try and keep some air space in the dam and, therefore, the levels that we're seeing here wouldn't have been so high."

These comments were met with the following response; the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), said “That was not possible. We run the risk of not having a full storage when demands increase and therefore not having the same volume of water available to irrigators and other entitlement holders later in the season."

Andrew Burge & neighbours moving sheep to higher ground

Andrew Burge & neighbours moving sheep to higher ground

The MDBA is under significant pressure from community groups throughout the Murray Darling Basin. One the many concerns that they face is the fact that those communities that are most affected by the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (the Plan), feel and rightfully so, that there is an unacceptable level of disconnect between the MDBA and the affected communities. The example above clearly demonstrates that this is the case, if this is the MDBA’s starting point, this situation will get very ugly and an already serious problem will only be exacerbated.

The hurt, the lack of compassion and sheer dismissiveness of a comment like that, given the current circumstances should serve as a very stark reminder to those parties responsible for the MDBA, that they currently have a range of very serious issues that need to be addressed immediately.

I would like to mention to the broader Australian community that Louise Burge would be possibly the most comprehensively briefed and knowledgeable authority on the constraint limitations of the water flows through the Murray Valley. She has more practical knowledge and a great technical understanding, as to the achievable and sustainable levels of environmental flows than any other person living within the Basin. She has been campaigning, ever since the 1st draft Plan was released as to the flaws and has highlighted many of the errors associated with the modelling and has consistently warned of the inevitable outcomes. Louise and her husband, Andrew have been ignored, derided by academic experts and dismissed by politicians on both sides of the house, only now to be proven correct in the worst possible manner and at what cost?

Governments are unable to build a 2nd airport in Sydney, cannot build a high speed train anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, cannot build a light rail connection from Melbourne Airport to the City, are struggling with the roll out of a national internet network and the list just goes on. Do not despair - they were able to create and implement a Murray Darling Basin Plan in the same time it takes to have a feasibility plan drawn up for a 2nd airport or a train line and this Plan covers an area that is about one-seventh of the total area of Australia and comprises three-quarters of New South Wales, over one-half of Victoria, a small portion of South Australia, and an area of Queensland greater than the total area of Victoria. It includes countless streams, tributaries, communities, swamps and parks, the majority would be unknown to most Australians.

What is even more staggering is that the majority of people who are responsible for the Plan and are least affected by the consequences, don’t live or work in the Basin. It has been left to the Hillston Cricket Club, Andrew, Louise and Brian’s neighbours and friends, the resilient communities and volunteers to support, sand bag, dig, bucket and clean up, save the flocks of sheep stranded, deal with the thousands of dying kangaroos and other native fauna.

There were very few, if any members of those government bodies responsible for water and water related decisions in the field assisting those constituents affected by their actions and decisions. It was the unpaid, good hearted people who despite being aware and warning the “decision makers” about the consequences of their ill-fated decisions, the locals - all community leaders, still found the time and the fortitude to do the right thing and help their neighbours.

If there is just one lesson to be learnt from this sorry exercise in political mismanagement and expediency, it is simply, we all want, accept and understand the need to develop and implement a comprehensive Murray Darling Basin Plan. This current Plan was designed and hatched during the millennium drought and as such, all the modelling on high water flows were undertaken at a time of minimal flows, on this basis alone it should never have been agreed to or signed off on. The process of developing and implementing the Plan could have started. But the final goals and outcomes should not have been concluded, until the Basin had experienced the full extent and range of the climatic conditions necessary to understand and subsequently formulate a Plan that dealt all of the environmental consequences, not just one.

Now that we (the Australian tax payers) are the largest water owners in Australia, we deserve better than this, and as owners of a resource that has created so much angst, has been so clearly mismanaged and is so important to well being of this nation, we should all demand a more appropriate outcome to ensure that this does not occur again.

With thanks,

 

Harold Clapham