In the lead up to the NSW State Election some Australian Green’s candidates have been claiming they are the farmer’s friend (Wolves’ ain’t so bad, Jeremy Bradley, February 10, The Land, pg. 26). Certainly there is no reason for continued conflict between conservationists and farmers in a land so vast and resource rich as Australia.
However, I have noticed that the Australian Greens have a tendency to demonise farmers – particularly irrigators and particularly over the Murray River.
Most dramatic stories have these three important characters and the Australian Greens tend to tell the story thus: the river is portrayed as the victim of over-extraction by the villain, the greedy farmer. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens paint themselves into the story as the rescuers.
Australian Greens’ Leader, Bob Brown, used to present as the knight in shining armour when it came to the river – repeatedly demanding water be taken from irrigators and returned to the river. More recently, Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, has taken over the role as rescuer and has been calling for the Federal Government to commit to a level of water return that will secure the health of the Murray River.
In fact, during the recent drought, the river was mostly brimming with water for most of its length carrying waters from the Hume and Dartmouth dams to Lakes Albert and Alexandrina at the bottom of the system.
But of course there was not enough water for the lower lakes, despite huge volumes being sent down.
And the barrages that block the natural ebb and flow between the lower lakes and the Southern Ocean were slammed shut during the drought preventing the lakes from flooding with salt water – something that would have occurred naturally before the construction of these enormous steel and concrete barriers.
If the lakes had been filled with water from the Southern Ocean, pressure would have been taken off the rest of the system, making more water available for red gum forests and other key upstream environments – and also more water for farmers.
If the Australian Greens supported a campaign to have the barrages removed, or at least more adaptively managed, then they could truly claim to be the friend of farmers in the Murray Darling Basin as well as the environment.
Filled with seawater, and with regular tidal flushing, the lower lakes would possess a different, but not necessarily less natural, or less healthy assemblage of plants, animals, birds, fish and micro-organisms.
The lakes were formed about 6,000 years ago when seawater broke through a land barrier flooding the region.
Ms Hanson-Young has claimed a bare minimum of 4,000,000 megalitres needs to be returned to the river system to give it any chance of survival – but this is plainly wrong.
In fact, in order to guarantee that Lake Albert never dries up again, and that farming can co-exist with healthy wetlands throughout the system, the Australian Greens need to rethink their approach in particular to the lower lakes and consider the salt water solution.
Lend your support to the saltwater fix by liking http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Lake-Alexandrina/143626762363849
This is an edited version of ‘Green knights miss saltwater fix’ first published in the The Land on February 17, 2011, pg 35