NSW Minister for Regional Water has Questions to Answer as Mass Fish Death Blame Game Commences

9 January 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has welcomed news that NSW Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, will visit Menindee today to see firsthand more than a million dead fish along the Darling River near the Menindee Lakes.

"Minister Blair needs to see the environmental destruction caused by both Federal and State Government mismanagement of the river and talk to the locals about his plans to return the dead Lower Darling back to life and ensure this sort of event does not repeat itself," said Rex. "But I caution him not to play politics with the locals."

Minister Blair yesterday blamed the drought, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and anyone else but his own Department for the incident.

"Minister Blair has got it wrong and must take at least some responsibility for this. He certainly has important questions to answer about his Government’s stewardship of the Darling River," said Rex.

In relation to Minister Blair's claim that the drought is responsible:

  • Some of the dead cod are over 80 years old, so they have survived many droughts (1935-45, 1952, 1964-65, 1982-83, 1990-95, 1997-2008) and the 1,000km algal bloom in the Barwon-Darling in 1991. How can he blame the drought?

In relation to Minister Blair's claim that the MDBA is solely to blame:

  • The Minister stood shoulder to shoulder with the MDBA in February last year as he threatened to withdraw from the Murray Darling Basin Plan in response to the Senate's initial decision not to support an extra 70GL of water being made available to irrigators in the northern Basin. Does he no longer stand shoulder to shoulder with the MDBA?
  • The Murray Darling Basin Plan allows the MDBA to use the lakes to meet downstream demand in the River Murray when the lakes’ volume rises above 640GL and until it drops below 480GL. Did the NSW Government make any protestation to the MDBA when the lakes were being drained in 2016/17? Will the Minister publish that correspondence?
  • According to documentation obtained by Senator Patrick using Senate processes, the Minister's department prepared a business case for the Menindee Lakes Water Saving project last year. That business case proposes that less water will be held in Menindee Lakes and that the Lower Darling will cease to flow more often and for longer. How can the Minister suggest this is an MDBA problem when the NSW Government is deliberately planning to make the situation south of Menindee Lakes worse?

  • The scathing MDBA assessment of NSW's proposed Menindee project detailed worse outcomes for native fish & bigger water quality problems. How can Minister Blair even think to propose deniability as to what is happening in the Lower Darling?

  • Does the Minister now acknowledge that the Northern and Southern Basin Sustainable Diversion limits, which were eventually passed by the Senate in May last year with the support of the Federal Government and Labor (but not Centre Alliance), may not actually be 'sustainable'?

Yesterday on television, as he blamed a lack of inflows for the incident, Minister Blair invited people to pick up the phone and propose solutions:

  • Has the Minister discussed with Federal Ministers Littleproud and Price the immediate use of recent Queensland or Commonwealth Environmental Water to assist in restoring life back to the Lower Darling?
  • Has the Minister determined how long it will take to replenish the fish stock that has died in the river this week and can he advise what is being done to get the ball rolling on this?
  • Is the Minister aware that, while the river is suffering, cotton growers are expecting their export volumes to go up from 3.8 million bales in 16/17 to 4.6 million bales in 17/18?
  • Does the Minister concede that allowing cotton growers to take 2800GL of water from the Murray Darling each year, only to export the product so that foreign entities get rich from the value added production of textiles and clothing, is not in the national interest? Does the Minister accept that Australia's food bowl is being damaged in order for foreign entities to profit?

Finally, noting these massive failings, when will Minister Blair take responsibility for all this, stop his obfuscation and excuses, and resign his ministerial position?

Senator Patrick has called on the Minister to visit some of the station owners in the Lower Darling to see the poor state of the river. "I did this a few weeks ago and was advised that I was the first politician that had bothered to do so in a very long time," said Rex.

Minister Blair needs to see the dying river for himself and understand its serious consequences for locals and for South Australians and Victorians. The fish spawning that occurs in the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling is important to South Australia and Victoria, and the river is also critical to proper flows through the Murray Mouth and into the Coorong.

The Darling River cannot be allowed to die.

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