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Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia

CHAIR —I welcome representatives of Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, NBAN, to today’s hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We have received a written submission from you, and I thank you for that. Do you wish to present additional material or make some opening statements, and then be questioned by the members of the committee?

Mr Hooper —We will make some opening statements. First, what I would like to do is acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on today, their elders, who are currently with us and those that have gone before us as well. I will give a brief description of NBAN, who we represent, and what our issues are.

The Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations is a confederation of 21 Aboriginal traditional owner nations within the northern Murray-Darling Basin. We represent 35,000 to 45,000 Aboriginal people who live within the basin, and many more traditional owners who live outside the basin but have a connection back to their traditional lands and their traditional country.

We have been left out, basically; that is it. Nobody cared about us. The politicians did not; the Murray-Darling Basin Authority did not. They did not understand us. They did not know what we are about. In their Basin Plan, they described a tree as a canoe tree. I do not know if you have actually read the Basin Plan or the guide to the Basin Plan, but I think it is on page 198 where they show a picture of a tree and described it as a canoe tree.

That shows the lack of Aboriginal knowledge, I suppose, from people within the Murray-Darling Basin. I think it is on page 198, but it is there at the back of the plan, like always. It just shows that there was a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people and consultation with Aboriginal people and, in particular, traditional owners. For thousands of years, we looked after the country. We did not have any dams. We did not have any irrigation. But, we had sites; we had sites of significance. Over the past 30 years the previous gentleman said that they built up an irrigation industry, but they built an irrigation industry on the destruction of our culture. They had bulldozers right across the country, knocking down our sacred sites. Did they care? No. Did the governments that gave them the permission to do that care? No.

In all of this, what we need to look at—and I know I am getting a bit emotional here—is that we have not been consulted in this process. It is now, some two-and-a-half years later, that we are finally being consulted to a certain extent. We formed NBAN as an organisation that could speak on behalf of traditional owners in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin, so that we can have a say in how the water is delivered to our cultural sites.

Our cultural sites are not included in the 2,400 and whatever iconic sites that they are talking about. I sat in an office with a guy in Canberra and I started mentioning a few sites such as Booborraa lagoon, Gooramon swamp, and he said to me, ‘I can guarantee you that those two particular sites are not one of the sites that we are looking at of significance.’ Did they consult us about the cultural significance of Narran Lakes? Did they consult us about the cultural significant of Booborraa lagoon or Gooramon swamp, or the Coorong, or the many sites that are down the river?

I suppose in saying that, we are in a bit of a quandary, as Aboriginal people. On one hand, Closing the Gap wants us to be healthy, educated, employed and trained so that we can give taxes back to the government like everybody else. I do not see any culture in that. I do not hear anyone talk about culture. I only hear them talking about our sites. From our point of view, we need a say in this whole process, and we have not been given that say. We met with the previous chairperson of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority when they came around and did their engagement or their consultations. I suppose from those meetings we did manage to get some concessions in terms of what they would do. There is very little regard to cultural flows and Aboriginal culture within the water act and that flowed through to the Murray-Darling Basin plan as well.

I think, first, we need recognition of cultural water and cultural flows within the act, and the importance of cultural water to us. It is fine to send an environmental flow down the river, but if that environmental flow is only within the banks of the river, it is not fulfilling our requirements as the custodians of the land to properly look after those sites that are off the river. I am the chairperson of an organisation that owns 42,000 acres on the Culgoa floodplains. The last flood was the biggest flood in history, the highest recorded, and I hear people talking about the amount of water that flowed down the river during the last two floods. Let me tell you: as a kid growing up in the 1960s, that river was never dry.

We would take our little tin boats down to the river and we would swim in the river. There would be catfish in the river. In the last 20 to 30 years, I think the river has gone dry five or six times.

In saying that, NBAN has a definition of cultural flows. The definition was adopted by us, and it came out of the Echuca declaration which was declared by our sister organisation, MLDRIN, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, in the lower part of the Murray-Darling Basin. We have accepted that, and that definition is also in the draft plan.

We need to control our own water to firstly, provide water to look after our cultural sites. Secondly, we are the most disadvantaged group of people within the Murray-Darling Basin. We have places like Brewarrina with 98 per cent Aboriginal unemployment. Bourke is similar. In the place where I come from, Weilmoringle, only one person works full time. In those towns, I am sorry, but those people do not work. The people who are working do not work in the irrigation industry. They work in the government departments that have created jobs for Aboriginal people in places like DOCS and Aboriginal medical services. Something needs to happen to look at the impacts on Aboriginal people within the Murray-Darling Basin. I did not see in the terms of reference anything to do with Aboriginal people. Having said that, I will hand over to my colleagues to have their say, and then we will take questions.

Mr Lacey —Thanks, everyone, for agreeing to meet with us. It is important that you notice that we stand here representing 30-odd Aboriginal nations, and we have a united voice. We want you to understand that we need to be consulted, and we need to be heard. We also need to have our issues, particularly cultural flows, included in the Basin Plan and in the act.

As Mr Hooper said, along the length and breadth of the Murray-Darling system there are large Aboriginal populations where unemployment is at 30 to 40 per cent, and as he said, in some of these other smaller towns, up to 90 per cent. That is known. One of the problems we have is that the welfare economy actually underpins a lot of these towns. Those towns, as Mr Hooper stated, include Walgett, Weilmoringle, Bourke, and some of the towns in northern New South Wales. One of the main problems is unemployment, but another facet to that is actually underemployment. A lot of these communities rely on seasonal jobs and rely on the farmers getting good crops and having plenty of water, so it has a flow-on effect or a domino effect down to the Aboriginal community. If they have a bad season or strike trouble with a drought and things like that, it affects us all. Underemployment is a really big problem.

You might not think about this, but something like the predatory high pricing that is going on, with fuel at about $1.55 a litre now, the price of bread going up to over $3, and the same with milk; all of those things reflect heavily on the Aboriginal community because they are all on welfare. If we are to have an environment where there will be more welfare, there will be a hell of a lot more side effects and social impacts. There is a link to Indigenous incarceration in relation to low socioeconomic status. That is well known. Incarceration is not a deterrent for a lot of the Aboriginal community; that is well known. If we are going to reduce the amounts of water or the sustainability of all of these communities out west here, we will actually have a flow-on effect and unfortunately we are down the lower end of that, and are usually the ones that get kicked into gaol or into other sorts of antisocial behaviours.

There needs to be a pathway back to the country. It is a nonsense that we can continually focus not on the Murray-Darling system, but Australia as a whole with migration or people moving from the country to the cities, they are the biggest water users of the lot, with the amounts of water they use in these overpopulated areas. Thought has to be given to how we actually get a better outcome in relation to getting people to return to the country. I do not think enough emphasis has been placed on that, particularly in relation to the Indigenous people.

Towns like St George could be a model to actually attract people back to the country. It all relies on water. I was born and bred here, and it has been a good town. It is a wonderful town, but the big attraction is the water, and if there is to be any impact on St George’s ability to access water, it will have a detrimental effect on the town and on the whole community. I love living in St George, and hopefully people would like to come back here, because we have the available amount of water that can deliver sustainable lives.

I will leave further comment on cultural flows to Mr Eckford, who is well versed in cultural flows. If there are to be any negative impacts on water for St George and also the Indigenous people, there will be flow-on effects right across the country.

Mr Eckford —First of all, our chairman, Mr Hooper, met Penny Wong when she was water minister, and she asked why it was not possible for Aboriginal cultural flows to fit within the environmental flows. They are very separate issues, and this is something that we are here to try to identify for you.

Cultural flows are very different from environmental flows. Let me go to one of your environmental flows for the purpose of breeding down at Narran Lakes. I am a traditional owner for Narran Lakes. Unfortunately, they send water down there when the birds were gone. So we get a drying up lake, and when the birds return to breed, there is no water in the lake. That has happened too many times in the system. When we talk about cultural flows and Aboriginal people getting control of those cultural flows or at least having some say and input into regulating cultural flows for our purposes, that is part and parcel of what we are talking about in terms of getting those things included.

Mr Hooper alluded to the fact earlier that our cultural sites are not necessarily within the river system itself. They are part and parcel of the overland system. Most of us down this river system have a four totemic system as opposed to people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia and Central Australia. Within that four totem system, our people belong to certain environmental areas. My grandfather belonged to the Ghooriburra, which is the native orchid that grows up in the Coolibah trees on the flat country. My grandmother belongs to Red Belly Black Snake country, which is the top of the ridges, and our main tree is the kurrajong tree. On the other side, we have the Murrawarry people who belong to lignum country, the swamp countries, that go along the riparian areas and the floodplains throughout the system. Then we have the Billabimble mob, and that is the bimble box, and they belong to a totally different ecosystem altogether, throughout and across the land.

In order for us to survive and maintain our cultural identity, we need those systems to thrive and survive. To cut off water flows across those overland areas throughout those districts will destroy all the native flora and fauna within that system. The native flora and fauna within that system is part of our totemic system.

They are our apical ancestors. Unlike what Charles Darwin said when he went back to England after he visited a couple of corroborees down at Bathurst and on Kangaroo Island, he reported to the parliament there that we were animal worshippers. That is not the system. Our people are part of the natural environment. We have a connection to that environment through our cultural creation, and we are responsible for those countries.

I know that a lot of the farmers have a preference for mowing down all of the lignum areas because it is a good catchment area where you get a lot of water. It is a natural environment area where the water soaks into the country and it retains a lot of moisture in the soil as well. That is one of the sites that they prefer to wipe out and grow wheat and other cereal grains within that system.

Without the water flows, the bunding levees are a bit of a problem for us as well. On the one hand, you have the bunding system like they have at Cubbie Station, which goes down 75 kilometres or 40 kilometres down one side and 25 kilometres across the bottom, so they fence it in and they catch all of the water that falls within that system. Of course, it is great in one sense. If you go to the Ballandoon cotton farm, they have a water reticulation system that is par excellence, because the water does not get out of it. I heard some people here make reference to that earlier that the herbicides and the other chemicals that are used within these industries do not actually get out into the system. But that is not quite true, because in 2010, we had a flood. My family owns 118,000 acres of land which stretches across the Queensland border at Hebel down towards Goodooga. We sit on the Ballandool River inside the Bokhara, between the Bokhara River, the Ballandool River, the Birrie River and the Culgoa River. We sit right in the middle of that, and that whole system has a lot of bunding levees on it and a lot of farmers’ catchment storage areas. I have a bit of a conundrum, because on the one hand the water storage areas provide shelters and water places that are not on the river systems anymore. For example, I do some good things with Ballandool, and we have been looking at the birds that are breeding in their catchment. They have now moved from certain water areas where they used to lay their eggs, and they are now moved to within the water catchment area and they breed in those areas. There are 62 breeding brolga pairs, for example. There are black ibis and spoon bills that are all nesting within that area. So the ecosystem is beginning to change in that regard, and birds and animals are starting to focus on those areas. We do not want to get into a situation where the herbicides and pesticides will be competing with emus and kangaroos that might go into those systems and start drinking some of that water which is not too good for them.

In terms of the health of the river system, I was taught as a kid that all I have to do is watch the crayfish. When the crayfish are walking out of the river, I know that the river is no good, because they carry their water bags and their camp, and they are looking for fresh water somewhere else. We know that that system is not going to work, and we know how it is.

I looked at that Cullen report. I am fortunate enough to be married to a hydrologist, and she understands the water systems very well. Unfortunately, that Cullen report has so many flaws in it, it is not funny. All they looked at in that report were the extraction limits and the effects that that extraction might have on the ecosystem within the river, including looking at fish and other aquatic animals. Unfortunately, it does not talk about when we get floods, and the bunding levees and where the water goes when those bunding levees occur.

We own the Mogila Station, which is a massive area. It was an ancient wetland. If you look at the satellite imaging, you can see it was an ancient wetland. We want to bring back the ancient wetland. But I have problems with these catchment management authorities across the country because they give you hundreds of thousands of dollars to fence off the river system and to look after your riparian areas down the system where the sites are and where we do have a lot of sites, including camping sites and burial grounds. You fence off these places, but no water is coming down the system so we can get the seed banks and get all of the nutrients and benefits of fencing off those areas.

It is a waste of money if we are just going to have a massive fencing project down the river and fence off the rivers, with no water coming down them which would overflow the banks and go out into that system and feed it. We need to look very carefully at that.

Our cultural flow also goes to the spirituality of the river system and those water areas. Within a lot of the waterholes down those systems, and in particular down the system where we are, we have a connection. We have many names for it because there are different tribes. We represent 32 groups, and they all speak different languages. They could walk down one side of the river and I could walk down the other, and he could be swearing at me but I would not have a clue what he is saying. Linguistically, we do not have that connection at all. We were a multicultural society long before the boat people came here. We have to understand that if we are going to look at Aboriginal cultural flows, a half-hour presentation to you guys will really not do the job. It will not be of great benefit.

I have tried to highlight to you that we have a very different view of things. On the one hand, if we look at the irrigators and their damming and their storage areas, that provides water for a lot of the birds and the breeding cycles. It is beneficial for us in that regard. My problem is the bunding levees, because the floodwaters cannot go across that land. You have a problem when you stop water flow across there. Cubbie Station created a bit of a problem for our property called Carrawillinghi up at Hebel here, because they had a big bunding levee. They poured all of the water inside of it, and then the water levee broke and all of the water came rushing into our property. We ended up with more water than you could imagine. Unfortunately it flooded areas that it should not have. We had the good sense to think that something would happen at Cubbie, so we took all of the animals off it. If we had not done so, we would have lost a lot of cattle, sheep et cetera. It is just a matter of watching how things work. We have to be a bit careful in this planning area.

Finally, I want to ask a couple of things. First, in the current water act, Mr Hooper said that we are not catered for, and we are not. However, I wish to refer to one thing in that water act. Your parliamentary advisors from the Crown Solicitor’s Office are not particularly bright. I have a bit of criticism of them. They said in relation to the water act that there is no compelling requirement to look at Aboriginal interests, our cultural rights, within the water act because it is not stipulated in there. However, if you read that act, you will find that you have to pay cognisance and have regard to the National Water Initiative. In fact, Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people are mentioned in that National Water Initiative. So sack those bloody lawyers that you have working there, because they are not worth two bob. If you are going to look at this, we have to look at it properly and make sure that you have people in Canberra who know what they are talking about. If you had employed them in private industry, they would be sacked. So make sure that you understand. You guys are there; you can sack them, it is not a problem. You could at least make a recommendation, anyway.

Finally, I ask the committee what you know about section 100 of the Australian Constitution. I would like to read it to you if you have not already read it. I want to remind you of it if you have read it and you know it. ‘The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation, of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.’ What does that mean to you people?

CHAIR —We are not here to have an interchange of those issues.

Mr Eckford —I just want to pose it to you.

CHAIR —I will pick up on it, because I think Philip raised it earlier, or it has been raised a couple of times today. What we are dealing with is an agreement between six governments. In recognition of section 100, the actual carrying out of the performance, if there are recommendations that come out of the eventual process, will be done by the states. That circumvents that issue of section 100.

The Commonwealth will not have the power to actually dictate to the states. The states and the Australian Capital Territory are a compliant body in the original agreement under which this act came about. So, it does not contravene, as I understand it, and I am not a lawyer.

Mr Eckford —Even though it may not contravene it, it does, however, place the onus back onto the state government to have consultation and due diligence of the peoples and the residents of that state. The constitution does state that the residents within the state have those rights and the state cannot even do it. If you read that, it creates all sorts of problems for the states to change the way in which we use water on the land in terms of irrigation and for conservation purposes.

Mr GIBBONS —Thanks for your presentation which was most informative. I have to tell you that there are a lot of other communities around Australia within the basin that were not consulted either, and mine in particular. So, do not feel alone there.

Mr Eckford —We are not alone.

Mr GIBBONS —I understand your situation. How would you fix it? How would you advise the government or the six governments that will be responsible eventually for coming up with a solution to the problem? Notwithstanding your problem of being isolated from it, and I understand the seriousness of that, but how would you fix it?

Mr Eckford —Instead of bringing the ministers together, why don’t you bring your advisors together so we can all sit in a roundtable discussion and hash out what they advise you?

Mr Hooper —I think two ways: first is to change the act so that we are recognised in all acts; second is to actually give us cultural flows that we can manage, that we can send down the river at times that we consider appropriate. In saying that, I will give one example. The red river gum in my culture with my people is one of the most special plants that we have. The reason for that is that all of our old people—and there is a section on Weilmoringle Station that is about three kilometres off the river that only floods when we have major floods—have a stand of red river gums. Around what we call Gooramon swamp, there are ancient camp sites. That is where our old people used to go to talk through the red river gums to our ancestors. For us, spiritually, that is the most significant plant in the Murray-Darling Basin. That connects us to our ancestors. If people understand Aboriginal culture, especially Murrawarry culture, for us that is very significant. If we have a problem, we go and sit under that red river gum and we talk to our ancestors. We talk to those people that have gone before us, and that is our spiritual connection. That is not considered in any of this. I am sorry to say this, but it is not considered by the environmentalists, it is not considered by the irrigators or government.

In answering that question, give us back our culture. Give us back our responsibility to look after our sites. In the 1960s, a lot of big properties around our area were like 500,000 acres. Weilmoringle Station originally was 500,000 acres. The majority of workers on Weilmoringle Station were the traditional owners. We helped build that property. We helped build the shearing shed; we helped build the industry. But, there was one thing that we had: we could go across that property and maintain our sites. We had connection from the Narran Lakes to Currawinya National Park, or Currawinya. We had connection to the Bunya Mountains. We had connection and we had responsibilities at Narran Lakes. We did not have any environmental responsibility; we had a ceremonial responsibility, and we had responsibility to look after all of those things on the Narran Lakes, including the animals, the plants, and the water.

So, in answering your question, give us that opportunity. Let us do it. Do not say that, yes, within the water sharing plans we will give you some responsibility to say and beg. Please give us some water so we can look after Gooramon swamp. That Mundagubba can come down from his home, down to the river, and keep it healthy, because that is the very thing that connects us from Warwick to the Coorong. Give it back to us.

Mr Lacey —In our dealings with the Murray-Darling Authority, the National Water Commission and also the water act, we are in a bit of a conundrum because in some places we are in it, and in other places we are out of it. In all of our discussions, we say, ‘Can we get this into the act?’ and they say, ‘No, you cannot.’ ‘Can we get this into the guide?’ ‘Yes, you can.’ We need to get consistency right across the board. We are either in or out, but at least we would know where we are.

Mr SECKER —I think you make a fair point about consultation or lack of. We have had that also in other areas, but I do point out that we did make sure that we met with the Ngarrindjeri people down in the Coorong, and we made sure that we met with you here, so it is probably not a criticism of us. It might have been a criticism of other people. I think Mr Eckford referred to one issue that I wish to raise. Earlier today we had evidence of some watering in January and February 2008, three years ago, for Narran Lakes, and they are saying that that was actually very successful. The hatchings went from 30,000 chicks to 50,000 chicks because of an extra watering. You said today that the watering was at the wrong time, or was that a different watering event?

Mr Eckford —That watering event was a lucky strike. Actually, they took some aerial photographs, satellite imaging, of that happening, and they sent it across to India because not enough Australians could sit down and count the nests, so they sent it to India, and the Indians counted it. There were 85,000 nests counted within one area of the Narran Lakes in that breeding cycle. We have two breeding cycles. You have to take into account those birds that come from up north, in the northern hemisphere, that do come to the Narran Lakes. They come from up there in the winter time, and they get down here in our summer time. We have another breeding cycle that occurs around the August-September period, and we do have a small event with particular birds in January-February. So there is a three-cycle event that occurs at the Narran Lakes. I could go in and give you a whole number of other breeding things that happen around the Narran Lakes as well that require water.

CHAIR —Given that that part of the system is an unregulated system, and you are on sort of come and go water, if it is on, it is on—if it is not, it is not; what would you think of a more managed strategic watering of Narran Lakes from the Eastern Australia Agriculture proposal?

Mr Eckford —I have not seen that submission and I do not know exactly what is stated in it. One thing about the Narran Lakes and feeding the Narran Lakes, we have a story about a place called Gullighurria, up near Angledool, where there was a water. The old man, the creator, put in a walking stick to bring water out of the ground to feed the animals during dry time.

When you look at that water and at white occupation, Langlow Parker, who was the first manager of the Bangate Station, and his wife, Catherine Parker, did a lot of writing about the droughts and the floods and the rains that occurred there. They documented it very well over a period of 15 years that they were there back in the late 1800s. It is quite interesting to look at how many floods, how many rain events and how many droughts occurred at that time. There was always water in one location, and that was up in the Gullighurria area where the water was always feeding the animals.

In fact, I was a little bit excited when Tony Abbott mentioned that he would like to put more dams in around the place, because I thought, here is a place where we could set up a dam in that catchment area, because a lot of water goes through there, as we have just seen. If you built a dam in that area, and it is possible to do so, you could feed that lake independent of the irrigators upstream. From the point of view of infrastructure and money, it would cost a hell of a lot, but it is a thought.

Mr Hooper —Also in answer to that, if you take Gooramon swamp on Weilmoringle Station, the records of Weilmoringle Station go back some 150 years. The station records actually note that there was a major flood on Weilmoringle every three years. So Gooramon swamp was full every three years. There was a minor flood, which was a bank-up, that also went out onto some of the riparian areas every 12 months.

That is a record from non-Aboriginal people who owned the station until we purchased it in 2000.

One of our old uncles tells the story about a canoe tree that his father cut, and that he used to go out and collect birds eggs and all of that on Gooramon swamp. As I said, Gooramon swamp is off the river. How do we water Gooramon swamp? Out there now are birds such as ibises; in fact, the bird life is phenomenal. Brolgas have come back. We have a breeding pair of brolgas that were never seen on Weilmoringle for something like 30-odd years.

We are in a bit of a quandary—and I will sum up on this—because we do not know which side to take. We do not know whether to take the irrigators’ side, because we have so many of our Aboriginal people out there that are underemployed, unemployed, living on the poverty line; or to go down the environmental side. We have said we have to go in between. To a certain extent we have to support water that creates jobs, that keeps our people employed, but we also have to support the environmentalists. When they looked at the 18 iconic sites, they said if we water the Narran Lakes, it will fulfil the requirements for all of those other environmental sites up the river, but it does not cater for our cultural sites. Again, we are saying that we need to control water. We do not care where you get it from.

Mr SIDEBOTTOM —Thank you, gentlemen; it has been very informative. I am just a little confused. Mr Lacey was saying that our water is so important here—and no one doubts this—for the maintenance of jobs and the community and, indeed, for Aboriginal members. Mr Hooper stated earlier that he did not believe that the Aboriginal community was effectively engaged in the agricultural industry and certainly working on it.

Mr Hooper —Sorry, I mentioned two towns, Bourke and Brewarrina, and Aboriginal people who are employed in those towns are predominantly employed in government sector.

Mr SIDEBOTTOM —I was just trying to get to the point. The council’s submission today stated how a lack of water would impact a great deal on the employment opportunities. We were also out amongst some businesses today who were basically saying that it is very difficult to get Aboriginals as members of the labour force. I suppose I am a little confused—and I can see your dilemma about irrigation and your cultural sites—so I was trying to determine the extent to which Aboriginals are engaged in the agricultural industry in this region.

Mr Lacey —That is the element I am talking about in underemployment. If you were to take the facts and figures that Centrelink would give you, there is only a four per cent unemployment level here in St George, when we all know that, amongst the Indigenous community here, it is up to more like 30 to 40 per cent. Historically, ever since cotton has been introduced to the area, a large number of Aboriginal people have been involved in the unskilled labour aspect of running those farms. Increasingly, with the advent of new machinery, better technology, and better farm management, those jobs are virtually disappearing. On the one hand you have 30 per cent unemployment, yet there are some tangible jobs out there, but to be honest, a lot of people are just sick of them, because they do not give you the sustainability that you are seeking to feed and look after your family and extended family. We have had people here try labour hire and a whole range of aspects, but it has not been seen to work.

As long as we have this low socioeconomic status underpinning these communities, that labour force is not going to be doing anything. We have to start coming up with some better ways. Everyone keeps talking about Closing the Gap and a whole lot of things. We have a real problem in relation to education; we have a real problem in accessing training. All of those sorts of things that predominately make rural communities you cannot get out here. As I said, the real problem is actually underemployment. They might do 15 hours a week which Centrelink will count as a full-time job.

Mr Eckford —My main criticism about looking for jobs for Aboriginal people in a lot of these areas in western towns is that a lot of the employers are totally dependent in most cases on government subsidies. When the subsidies finish, the Aborigines finish their jobs as well.

Mr Hooper —Also, there is a growing push within Aboriginal communities to tie up property for conservation under the Indigenous Protected Areas program. Our organisation applied for funding under that particular program, and we have tied up 7,000 acres of our property under the IPA. With that comes funding for projects which in turn can create jobs. Like the chairman was saying, there can be win-wins. At the moment, as the chairperson of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, I cannot see a win-win, but I would like to think that there can be a win-win down the track in terms of all of us, working with the irrigators, working with the graziers, working with the councils to include us in the whole process as well.

There is a lot of conservation work going on. The Balonne Shire witnesses talked about the ranger program, and thank you very much for the support of cultural flows as well. There is a new way of looking at employment for Aboriginal people within the Murray-Darling Basin, certainly with the Indigenous Land Corporation actually purchasing more properties so they can create employment, and looking at the economies of properties as well. We try to make a living out of sheep but we understand the need for conservation. We understand that we have a property there so that we can protect our cultural sites but for one of those particular sites, we need some water when the river is dry, out of either the environmental allocation or our own cultural flows so we can fill it up to enable those birds to come back.

CHAIR —We might have to wrap it up there, gentlemen. Thank you very much for taking the time to be here. What I suggest that you do, if you could, particularly with some of the cultural sites that you have mentioned today in terms of watering, it would not hurt for us to have those identified. I know where a few of them are, but I do not know where some of them are.

Mr Lacey —We did go to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority with a research funding proposal for $3 million. They gave us $1 million and said that we have to go and find the rest somewhere else. We have formed a research committee that is going to look at that and hopefully we can identify those sites. There is also a project through the National Water Initiative with the New South Wales State government—I do not know about Queensland—to identify a lot of those sites. I am hoping that once that is done we will have a better idea of all of those sites. We can certainly supply you with the sites that we know.

CHAIR —Okay. Thank you very much, gentlemen. You will receive a copy of Hansard. If there are any corrections that you need to make, please let us know.

CHAIR —Ladies and gentlemen, you have been a pretty good audience. We have a number of people who want to make a brief statement. We do not want long speeches, and we will actually allot four minutes. So, if you have a point that you want to make, please make the point. The reason for doing this is not about having a long-winded speech; it is about creating some contact. We have found it very successful in other areas where people raise an issue, and in some cases it might be a solution or it might be how you can better water an icon site, or some micromanagement of some environmental site, et cetera. That then establishes a link between us and that individual. If you could be pretty much to the point and make your point, it would be appreciated. A bell will ring at three-and-a-half minutes, and this lady is very strict.

A number of people want to speak, so I will ask Rob Moore to come forward, please.

Mr Moore —Thanks, Chair. I am a grazier two hours to the west of here, north of Bollon. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone here today is emotionally trying to talk some common sense into what is a 100 per cent political problem. It hides behind the science, the water act, and our international obligations to treaties, all of which are tools of a political agenda, if you ask me. For the past 20-plus years, a green agenda has infiltrated the government departments, and they have quietly pushed their agenda by self-serving political parties and backroom deals to achieve their goals. Science has been dumbed down and linked to politics, as in grants for research, or should I say cash for comments. Ever since Neville Wran got his retirement job as head of CSIRO, he has lost the respect of a lot of people. Look at the carbon dioxide tax based on rising sea levels. Why are we about to become the most stupid country in the world? Why? It is due to green agendas coming through and politicians looking after themselves and not their country.

I will give two examples. The greenhouse gas, holes in the ozone and Kyoto have all fabricated carbon as causing the sea levels and so forth. This is not off topic, because Howard, Hill and Kemp, in looking to lock up huge areas of native vegetation to satisfy the Kyoto agreement, got the states to introduce the native vegetation. All this is basically property rights, which is the same as what we have heard today—water rights.

The simple solution, after sitting here today, is to just leave it alone, with no cutbacks. We have had massive floods; we had 10 years of drought. It is simple. The trouble is that all of this was put in train about seven years ago, but a water act and stuff in the middle of a drought is a bit of a no-brainer, but that is just nature. It evens out.

Property rights in the name of salinity, biodiversity, sustainability, all for the greater good, and I could use all the clichés in the world; but the states did not pay compensation for the native vegetation because they did not have to.

My mate Peter Spencer is in the carbon case in the High Court, and the jury has not met yet, so I cannot see how they can tax carbon if it is under a court case question mark. That has nothing to do with this, but he has 61,000 items in his discovery of committees, COAG meetings and international conventions. The point I am making is that the lead-up to the native vegetation is no different to the lead-up in this Murray-Darling business. It started about seven to 10 years ago, and the Greens sort of pushed and pushed in departments, and bingo, here it is, we are all meeting here today. The die was cast a long time ago. People have just got to say no to this; stand our ground and tell them to stick it, and you are the committee to do that. That is the message I would like to give today. Not that I am affected totally, but I am on the scheme.

The other thing is the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. They really get up my nose. We have Flannery there on $400,000 a year that Gillard gave him; David William, of CSIRO should resign—junk science. They want to lift their game. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Robert.

Mr Willis —Thank you, Chair. I will make this really quick. We have spent a lot of time talking about the physical and mechanical fixes this afternoon, and in our submission, which you probably will not have, as it is a bit of a late horse, chapter 2 deals with quite a few of these. I will run through them quickly.

Menindee Lakes, Culgoa floodplain, Narran Lakes—any of these environmental assets need to be managed by a stipulated environmental management plan rather than just throwing water at them and hoping for the best. I think that is what the Greens would like. Simple hydrological adjustments can be made easily, and they are cost effective. At 2.3, Ian Todd has already mentioned deepening the private off-stream storages. Some 80 per cent of the water held in this region is held in these storages. By deepening these storages, we could quite easily save 30 per cent of the water. If growers can save that amount of water, you might find that more water is tendered for sale.

One issue that we have probably skirted around a little bit is the products used to reduce evaporation. Currently, the water use efficiency budget basically goes towards irrigation application efficiency. We could essentially say we have exhausted that budget, or that it is very hard to get another five or 10 per cent improvements here. If we could find cost effective products to reduce evaporation by, say, 50 per cent, the savings in this area would just be staggering. That is an area that government should look to increase the proportion of funding to R&D for all of these new mechanisms. As an example, and it was mentioned before, a storage with a four-metre high wall, with three metres of water is only yielding 45 per cent if you were to leave it for 12 months, but if you could save the evaporation by 50 per cent, that storage could increase its yield up to about 70 per cent, so quite considerable savings are possible. I have no doubt that these products will come around in the next 20 years, but that is a little bit too long. We need to expedite this process. By engaging with private enterprise, who would like to extract every cent, they would like to ensure that the marginal costs of providing it to the grower will be equal to their marginal revenue so that they maximise their revenue and we maximise our savings through evaporation reductions.

Section 2.5 deals with the purchase of temporary water. This definitely should be part of the plan.

Finally, I think the water act should be amended, as I think a lot of us would believe that governments cannot be trusted with these sorts of outcomes, and if it is enshrined in legislation, at least we will have half a chance of getting a social and economic outcome that is equal to the environmental outcome. Water buybacks definitely have to be included. There are plenty of willing sellers, but there are not many willing buyers. The only buyer is the government, so it has to step up to the mark with the money. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ed. David Blackett, the Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Mr Blackett —Thanks, Chair. I am from a scientific background. These days I am table and wine grape grower. I just wanted to comment on the horticultural industry in this region which has not been mentioned much. I guess with the delinking of water from land, there is tremendous potential to grow the horticultural industry in this area. It is already a fairly significant table grape producer, rock melon and onion producer. I have a colleague here who is pioneering the vegetable crop development. Any proposed cuts in the Murray-Darling guide will stifle that development.

Horticulture, I should point out, is a terrific employer of labour per megalitre of water, more so than the cotton industry, but we need both in the area. We certainly need the horticultural industry to develop and diversify into future crops. On that basis, I make the point that we are fairly sceptical of the science that was used in the report; it was done in a drought year. If you repeated that science in the current situation, you would get a completely different set of ecological data in relation to bird life, fish life and all the invertebrate populations. So that needs to be an ongoing thing, and we need to accept that we are on an ephemeral system. The river system ranges from massive droughts, such as what we have had in the last decade, to massive flooding events and everything in between. The current modelling and structure does not really reflect that very well.

We talk about averages all the time, but averages can be quite misleading. For example, if you take 30 per cent out of this area, and it is in a dry series of years where we were only starting with 50 per cent of the water anyway, that represents a 65 per cent reduction in that individual irrigator’s water or the community water. If you take that 30 per cent out in a good year, like now where there is already 100 per cent allocation, that is only a 30 per cent reduction. So just taking static figures such as 30 per cent or 29 per cent that Donna mentioned, does not reflect the variability we get in the river systems.

If buyback is necessary, or water resumption is necessary, I ask your committee why the government is not looking more at temporary buyback for the environment or for cultural flows or for whatever reasons. With that huge pool of money that you are going to spend on buyback, if you work out the interest to loan on that, it could buy a lot of temporary water in the years it is needed. When the MDBA was here, it did acknowledge that in drought years or very dry years, there is no water for anyone. In very wet years, such as currently, everyone has water, including the environment, cultural, whatever. The debate needs to be on those in-between years, between the low water flow and, say, the medium water flow. They are the years that we need to debate. They are the years when perhaps the federal government needs to look at a temporary buyback using the interest on all of that money that you are going to use in permanent buyback. Why not use some of that for temporary buyback? You will have to pay more in the dry years for that water for the environment and less in the wetter years. However, that would encourage water storage, like Tony and Fred both mentioned earlier. Maybe it would encourage some irrigators to store water for environmental purposes, and if the money is right and if the environmental water is that important, it should be up to the feds or someone to pay the money for that water to recompense irrigators. I would urge some of the economists in the department to look at some modelling on the temporary buyback option rather than extracting permanent buyback which then will not be able to be used for any environmental purposes in dry years. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, David. Dick Theis.

Mr Theis —Good afternoon. I represent the Citizens Electoral Council. It is a political party which represents thousands of farmers, small business and workers across Australia. We are using the principle of the common good and the general welfare of all people. The base of this water act and the MDA forums that they used to put it together with so-called best science, such as ecosystems, healthy rivers and wetlands is just plan quackery and bullshit.

It was derived from Prince Philip’s World Wildlife fund in 1971, the first of the international conservation treaties, called the Ramsar wetland treaty. The WWF co-founder, Max Nicholson, said in 1970, when they were deciding what to do with this, ‘Ducks unlimited means sovereignty superseded.’ So, armed with this Ramsar treaty, Prince Philip’s WWF and Australian minions, or the minions WWF Australian Conservation Foundation, sustainable population—this is Tim Flannery’s little game now with Julia—and Tim Flannery et al of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, environmentalists and greenies, set out to smash the Murray-Darling Basin and destroy Australia’s food bowl to help with Prince Philip’s made idea of depopulating the world.

Add this to the total support of a heap of gutless corrupt politicians of all persuasions, with either evil intent or brain dead, using the British Empire’s free trade ideology, this same British Empire controls 70 per cent of the world’s finance through the Inter Alpha Group of Banks which are running all over the world now, and are run by Lord Jacob Rothschild to create or re-create an old British East India Company. The MDA and politicians alike believed that the forums would pass through without declaring the Adrian Rizza report or any other process reports.

I would like to sum up as follows: (1) clean out the corruption and evil intent with a proper electoral reform; (2) wholly repeal the water act of 2007 and start again with the right consultations; and (3) set up a King O’Malley style people’s bank, like the old Commonwealth Bank, as a regulator, and it could create the credit to build roads, rail, dams for storage, mitigation, rebuild the likes of the Clarence River scheme which would put water down the Murray-Darling at all times by only taking 15 per cent of the floodwater out of the Clarence River scheme. This would allow farmers and business people to develop with the cheaper credit loans the same as those which would be used to build this infrastructure, as well as rebuilding from the disasters, if you had this credit bank, instead of deciding to put a levy on all of the people in Australia. It is not their responsibility; it is the responsibility of the people in Canberra to organise this, not by taxing the Christ out of the ordinary people. Anyhow, closing off on that, with using the cheap credit loans, our belief is that the wealth is in our people, not in the city of London money power.

I would like to finish off with a statement by Jack Lang, one of the greatest politicians of this time. In 1930 he said, ‘The one God-given, inalienable right of man, is the right to live. If man or woman is denied the right to work, they still retain the right to live. The Government that fails to realise that, has forfeited the right to exist.’ Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Dick. Glenn Rogan.

Mr Rogan —Thank you, Chair. I will go a little bit more local. I am the chair of the St George irrigation advisory committee for Sun Water. One of the dilemmas that is in the capacity to participate in the water use efficiency and the storage efficiency with the Sun Water storage is that the Murray-Darling Basin does not recognise an allocation until it ends up on farm. So that ruled out the St George Water storage and any efficiency savings from the government’s storage from being included in the water use efficiency program, because there was no allocation to be handed back or to be traded if you made savings on building more dam storage. I am quite sure that we can come to some water use efficiency storage arrangements with the government’s storage if only we were able to manage a trade-off there.

The St George area is leading the way in their conceptual development of innovative ways of thinking about irrigation water. St George was one of the first areas to come up with the capacity share system which works very well. The Lower Balonne is, as I understand it, the first area to develop and operate, and has done for 10 years, more formally in the last few years, the event flow management. The other one was the specifying and controlling of overland flow, which was done for the first time Australia-wide in the Lower Balonne. We are an area that does have conceptual views which think ahead of the game.

One area that I think is a bit of a sleeping grim reaper on the Murray-Darling Basin is the potential harm that the coal seam gas can do to the Great Artesian Basin. That will have a dramatic effect on all the small towns in the Lower Balonne. Certainly the Lower Balonne relies on Great Artesian Basin water. If that system is in any way contaminated, that will put an enormous demand on all those towns and back on to overland flow water, and also all of the stock industry would have to be reliant on the river systems rather than the Great Artesian Basin. Potentially, it could have an enormous negative impact on the Murray-Darling Basin. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Glenn. Thanks for the time this morning. It has been very informative, and to the others who are still here who spent some time with us this morning, we appreciate it.

That is the conclusion of today’s proceedings. Before I got through a formality, I would like to thank all of you. Thank you, Madam Mayor, for being here, and the general manager and Andrew for taking the time to come along today and to stay for the proceedings. Thank you to all the people who have made submissions. Some people who are not here today have made valuable contributions. Approximately 600 submissions have gone into the system, so there is a great deal of interest out there in terms of this whole guide arrangement and how it comes to fulfilment.

I think there is growing recognition in some parts of the system that there is a need to make some changes. I think those changes probably will take place in the context of being much more sensitive to the people who live within the system. Some of the things we have heard today have been very constructive in relation to some of the things that can happen, if we do start to think a little bit outside the square in terms of micromanagement of some of the environmental icon sites with respect to water use efficiency and a more targeted buyback, and some of the other issues that have been raised here today.

Contrary to popular view, I do not think this is all going to happen in a great hurry. A number of people have mentioned the 2015 and 2019 issue, which is the difference in the water sharing arrangements between the states. Obviously to have any continuity, there will have to be some bringing together of those sorts of things, and that will be something that our committee will be talking about at quite some length.

Just to placate some people who are greatly concerned about this, and we ran into people in Griffith, for instance, who were frightened of what was being talked about in the public arena as to having their livelihoods taken away. There is no intention from any side of government to actually compulsorily acquire water. There are ways of restricting the use of water through allocations that the various states have had in place over the years anyway.

You can restrict the use of water through the various current processes. I would not like anyone to think that suddenly someone is going to come along and take their water.

The other thing I will mention briefly is that when the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was doing its rounds, a number of figures, including 3,000, 3,500 and 4,000 gigalitres were mentioned. If you assume that the 3,000 figure has some sort of scientific validity—and there are question marks about that, and the authority is re-visiting some of those things as well—if you assume that that was the number, that number is now 2,000, or slightly under, and could be heading fairly quickly to 1,500 if you bring into place the climate change component of those guesstimates or estimates. No one has gone anywhere near anybody’s water entitlement. We have not got anywhere near water use efficiency. Something like $5 billion could be available for that sort of targeted stuff. We have not gone to the sorts of things that Eastern Australia Agriculture talked about where, through micromanaging and strategic management, the quantity of water on both sides of the budget can actually change, and you will achieve the same outcome without the same pain. I would just encourage people to think in that vein, if they could. If we can do enough of that in the 26 catchments, and although you people are a bit flat, a lot of areas south of here have valleys where water use efficiency things can be put in place fairly readily.

Having said that, I thank you for the way in which you have received our committee. They do take it seriously. I think you can see that. I appreciate the way in which the meeting has been conducted and received today. Thank you very much.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Mitchell):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 5.32 pm