It is the mind-blowing ignorance and neglect of the environment and climate change — coincidentally, also the issue the majority of Australians believe needs urgent action – which is likely to bring the Morrison Government down.
The slow painful death of the Murray-Darling system
After the environmental apocalypse of two weeks ago with the Murray-Darling deaths of close to a million fish, this week, that number has escalated with yet another incident, the third in recent weeks. IA attempted to obtain estimated numbers form the NSW Department of Primary Industries but this has not yet been received.
And the Government’s response?
Let's go through the responsible ministers' responses, one by one.
Environment Minister Melissa Price has not been spotted anywhere near the vicinity of the crime scene or fronted the media for comment.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Drought Preparation and Response David Littleproud? See "Price" above, though he did call for yet another inquiry, despite his Government having paid no attention to the last one.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has thus far deftly avoided the stench of fish and rivers in general. She did, however, manage a quick stocktake on the number of voters in Menindee. Fish don't vote, after all — especially dead ones.
Appearing before the media in Wentworth (lots of voters, not many fish and the scene of the last Coalition electoral annihilation), Berejiklian told reporters:
"I’ve been in close proximity to Menindee... To be honest, my job as Premier is to visit communities on the ground that are most concerned about their water security... In comparison Menindee has a population of around 300..."
Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, the person who signed off on huge water "use" – also referred to as "theft" in some quarters – by gargantuan cotton irrigators, has likewise avoided the media and, of course, the stinky fish remains of his handiwork. Said handiwork also included dubious water purchases favouring wealthy irrigators, as previously reported by IA in 2017.
Prime Minister Morrison, demonstrating that a "fish rots from the head down", didn't bother to visit the site, either, spending his time on elaborate Captain Cook commemorations and sporting events instead. He also tried to argue that despite the "devasting ecological event", the Government had been "operating in accordance with scientific evidence" provided back in 2012 — except as IA has already pointed out, it has not.
Instead, as a leaked 2012 memo from Fisheries NSW indicated:
'There appears to have been no consideration of any scientific information on the impact of extraction or changes to the environment that have been detailed in the last decade.'
And last but not least, this clueless response from Barnaby's underwhelming replacement, Deputy PM Michael McCormack:
"The fact is, we are experiencing incredibly prolonged dry period [sic] and when it doesn't rain in the catchment, the water doesn't flow down the Darling. Unfortunately, these things happen."
Of course, as pointed out by experts, these things never happen in normal drought conditions, evinced by the fact that some of these fish had survived for 100 years, until now.
And Menindee locals, many of whom have also survived severe droughts, are astute enough to blame the crisis on cotton irrigators' water use and breathtaking government incompetence:
NSW Government officials say the State's drought was to blame for the fish kill earlier this month, but locals in Menindee claim the area's waterways have been mismanaged for years.
They said these fish kills proved their worst fears about the emptying of the Menindee Lakes in 2014 and 2017.
Things such as this only happen with ongoing government neglect, when river catchments are bled dry with government approval and when the interests of corporations – such as Webster Limited, controlled by a National Party major donor – supercede those of other farmers, the general public and the environment.
Despite the Morrison Government's inexplicable two-point Newspoll increase this week, all indications are that they are careering towards a repeat of the staggering losses in the Victorian State Election and in Wentworth. With this latest example of the absence of climate change policy and (federal and state) government incompetence, many voters are hoping that it will be the Coalition Government, and not the continent, that will end up cooked like the fish.
This is only half the story. The full version of this editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter and is also available to subscribers online in the members only area.
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