Feb 11, 2020

Rebuilding resilient communities amid climate-induced drought and bushfires

The federal government is pouring billions of dollars into its attempts to deal with the worst impacts of a climate crisis it prefers to ignore. But this money will never achieve its stated aim nor reach those who need it most.
The federal Coalition government’s Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan, released in November last year, sets out its proposal for dealing with the most severe drought in living memory — one that has been made worse by the climate crisis.
The government is offering $50 million for an On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme to improve on-farm water management and $36.9 million over five years “to improve water security and drought resilience in the Great Artesian Basin through increasing artesian pressure and reducing wastage”.
The plan also proposes to spend about $3.5 billion on a national water infrastructure plan that will take even more water out of river systems.
Meanwhile, after initially denying the recent East Coast bushfire catastrophe was anything out of the ordinary, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set up a National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
The agency is set to receive $2 billion, which comes on top of the more than $100 million in disaster recovery payments and allowances that have already been disbursed.

Eyewitness: East Gippsland burns

East Gippsland is one region among many affected by disastrous bushfires. Three quarters of it — stretching about 250 km from west to east and 150 km from south to north — has been burned as I write this: about 700,000 hectares.
The last two years have been dry with 2019 being the driest on record, with less than half average rainfall. Fires started by lightning strikes last November 21. Despite the efforts of professional fire crews, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and water bombers, the fires continued and expanded in bursts. Much of the terrain was inaccessible.
On December 30, at 44° Celsius, they raced out of the forests and devastated communities, including mine at Sarsfield, 12 km from Bairnsdale. They left our mud brick house but little else, including our grandsons’ cabin and most of their possessions. Dozens of houses were lost in Sarsfield and neighbouring Clifton Creek.
We had six weeks of warning and expected to be hit, so we evacuated in time with what we particularly did not want to lose. Many people had friends or relatives in Bairnsdale to go to. We used the Organic Centre. A relief centre was set up by the shire, then an additional one as evacuee numbers mounted.

Nov 20, 2019

Nationals betray the bush — again

Among the death and destruction left in their wake, one can observe some positives that have come from the devastating bushfires that ripped through New South Wales and Queensland.
One is that the conservative taboo on linking bushfire intensity and frequency to the climate crisis has been broken. The other is that the National Party has well and truly revealed itself to be no friend of regional Australia.

The desperate attempt by Nationals leader Michael McCormack to dismiss any reference to climate science as the preserve of "woke capital-city greenies" — in stark contradiction to the clearly expressed views of firefighting experts and people in the bush — marked a genuine turning point.
The frantic insistence by former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce that the Greens bear some responsibility for the fires, even though the Coalition has been in power for several years, both federally and in NSW, was truly unhinged.

Once upon a time, the National Party was characterised by its "rural socialism", a mixture of rural pork-barrelling and support for farmers. Those days have long since gone.
It now functions as a simple sidekick for the extension of the Liberals’ ruthless neoliberal agenda into the bush. The Nationals’ unconditional support for coal mining and billionaire cotton producers, at the expense of the Darling River ecosystem and downstream agricultural industries, is brutal proof that they represent agribusiness and fossil fuel capitalists, not family farmers.

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Oct 18, 2019

NSW rivers crisis: A ‘perfect storm’ of drought, theft and corruption

“The problem is mismanagement of the Barwon-Darling rivers” activist Fleur Thompson told the Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival bus tour, as it passed through the western New South Wales town of Bourke on September 30.
“The federal and state governments could step in anytime and fix it, but they don’t and won’t. To do that the governments would have to admit fault.”
Between September 28 and October 4, some 300 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people travelled through western NSW towns that have been badly affected by a lack of water in the rivers, as part of the corroboree organised by First Nations activist and artist Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth.
Discussing the causes of the lack of water, Thompson explained: “There is a water crisis. It is a perfect storm, which includes drought, water theft, mismanagement, political interference and corruption.
“It came about because the rules about irrigation and allocation of water in the river were changed by governments in 2012.”

Is NSW deliberating shutting down towns to mine underground?

“It seems that towns in western New South Wales are being shut down and nobody is listening,” local resident Mark Merritt told Green Left Weekly on the banks of a non-existent river.
Together with Susie Peake and Cath Eaglesham from Earthling Studios, Merritt attended an event organised on the Baaka River (the local Aboriginal name for the Darling River) as part of the Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroborree Festival tour held between September 29 and October 4.
The tour was organised by Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth to expose the state of the Baaka.
Broken Hill’s water has always come from the Menindee Lakes, a gigantic lake system in the middle of a semi-arid desert that contains water bodies more than 15 kilometres wide.
In 1949, infrastructure works modified the lakes to act as huge water storages to mitigate flooding and hold water supplies for South Australia. A more than 30-kilometre long levy was built along the eastern bank of the Baaka to form a human-made lake, named Lake Wetherell, as an additional water storage to supply the townships of Menindee, Sunset Strip and Broken Hill.
In the past 60 years Broken Hill has never run out of water.
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Sep 16, 2019

La Via Campesina: Burning the Amazon is a crime against humanity

La Via Campesina is a global social movement that unites 148 groups representing small farmers, peasants, rural workers and indigenous communities around the world.
It fights for food sovereignty and ecologically sustainable agriculture.
It released the following statement on August 24.
Over the past few days, peoples and governments from around the world have been witnessing the consequences of the recent and serious crimes committed against the Amazon rainforest.
The thick clouds of smoke that covered the southeast of Brazil, especially São Paulo, are a direct result of the dramatic increase of fires set in several parts of the forest and transition areas with the Cerrado tropical savanna.
It should be clear for society in Brazil, Latin America, and the world that this is not an isolated phenomenon. In fact, it is the result of a series of actions taken by agribusinesses and big miners since the beginning of the Jair Bolsonaro administration, which has been actively supporting and encouraging them.
After nearly two decades of reduction in deforestation, the country’s current president and his environment minister, Ricardo Salles, engaged in violent rhetoric against Brazilian environmental conservation legislation and mechanisms, while also increasingly targeting and criminalising those who have historically protected the Brazilian biomes — peasant families and indigenous peoples.

Darling River fish removal is no solution

Nature conservation groups have criticised the NSW Coalition government’s $10 million plan to remove threatened fish species from the Darling River in the state's south-west, following the disastrous fish kill last summer.
The plan involves relocating thousands of stranded native fish from drought-ravaged Menindee from September 9 in a two-week rescue mission, targeting pools that will not survive the summer.
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the rescue mission was part of the government’s strategy to create “a modern day’s Noah’s Ark” to protect native fish species. “This summer is going to be nothing short of fish Armageddon,” Marshall said.
The fish will be stunned and scooped up into boats with special climate-controlled containers. They will then be taken to a section of the Lower Darling which fishery experts say will offer better quality habitat and long-term water security for the fish.

Aug 22, 2019

Killing rivers for mines and irrigators

The Broken Hill water pipeline has been exposed as a vital element in a plan to sacrifice the Lower Darling and Murray rivers to the interests of the cotton and mining industries.
A 2016 business case report into the $500 million Broken Hill pipeline, made public by Independent New South Wales MLC Justin Field on August 14, has revealed the project was built to meet the needs of irrigators and mines while ignoring impacts on the environment and regional towns in New South Wales and Queensland that are run out of water.
The report focused on shifting the water source for Broken Hill, in far west NSW, from the Menindee Lakes to the Murray River to free up extraction for irrigators further upstream and provide water for two new mines.
Quoting figures from the Cotton Growers Association, the report said that going ahead with the pipeline and drying up the Menindee Lakes would put 50 billion litres of water into irrigator dams in the northern reaches of the Darling River, contributing an estimated $120 million to agricultural output.
Field said: “Any way you cut this, the pipeline is a half-billion dollar gift to Northern Basin irrigators,” adding this is “a disaster” for the dying Darling River.
Field said the business case report echoes findings of the recently released Natural Resources Commission review of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan, which found over-extraction by irrigators and other users had brought forward drought conditions in parts of the river system by three years.
“The reality is that this [drought] has been a manufactured crisis,” Field said. “Broken Hill didn’t have a water security problem until upstream irrigators were allowed by the NSW government to suck the river system.
“This pipeline allows that unsustainable water use to continue and risks the long-term health of the river and the Menindee Lakes.”

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Jul 19, 2019

Broken Hill: ‘Give us our river back’

The Murray-Darling river system is the lifeblood of Australian agriculture, but it is now in serious crisis.
The river system is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, and with mass fish deaths in the headlines and farmers struggling to survive, the water crisis is deepening.
But the current crisis has long-term roots in a river system that for years has been controlled by big business and corrupt governments.

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