Ian Sutton’s Fact Finding Tour – What’s up with the Murray Darling Basin – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Ian’s Fact Finding Tour beginning just south of St. George and then focused on the area around Mungindi – The Northern Basin.

Day 11 – January 15th, 2020

Video 14 – Water Lord’s – Nobody owns the water

Day 13 – January 17th, 2020

Disclosure 9 – Australians have been lied to: Murray-Darling Basin Authority acted unlawfully.

John Williams is an Adjunct Professor at the Crawford School of Pubic Policy at The Australian National University and the Institute of Land Water and Society at Charles Sturt University.

I see the Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission report as a most impressive and comprehensive analysis and legal documentation of how the wonderful intent and aspirations of the Commonwealth Water Act in 2007, written to bring healing and health to the working rivers of the Basin, were systematically eroded, lost and destroyed in the final design and subsequent implementation of the Basin Plan.

The report documents a national tragedy. It brings to light our failure as Australians to put in place water reform at a level of change necessary to drive the sustainable use of our working rivers.

Importantly the report documents how the excellence of Australian Science in hydrology, ecology, economics and the social sciences were either ignored, manipulated or used in a controlling manner that did not foster open, national and international peer review and open public scrutiny. Science flourishes with open enquiry, peer review and public scrutiny.

Dr Samantha Capon is from the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University

“While good science should be a key ingredient of water planning in the Murray-Darling Basin, the concept of scientifically determined ‘Environmental Water Requirements’ that underpins the Water Act and Basin Plan process is deeply flawed. Science cannot determine how much water a river (or wetland or fish species) needs without having clear and specific objectives and these can only be determined with social, cultural and political contributions. Otherwise, asking what a river’s ‘Environmental Water Requirements’ are is akin to asking how long is a piece of string?

Associate Professor Darla Hatton MacDonald is from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics at the University of Tasmania

The sections on Aboriginal consultation, engagement and involvement are refreshing, long overdue and a step in the right direction. The report points out that the Water Resource Plans are an opportunity to provide appropriate recognition and direct involvement of Aboriginal people in the management of water resources.

Professor Quentin Grafton is Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University

Importantly, the Royal Commission states that there has been an “unfathomable predilection for secrecy. That is the bane of good science and an obstacle to the democratic and informed design and improvement of public policy” (P. 16). Indeed, the Royal Commission places the Murray-Darling Basin Authority that is charged with implementing the 2012 Basin Plan as the chief culprit.

In sum, the Royal Commission provides a forensic indictment of both federal and state leadership and those senior public servants who have deliberately subverted the stated objectives of the Water Act 2007.

If there were any doubt that Australians have been lied to and hoodwinked about water reform, this report is the evidence.

Professor Caroline Sullivan is a Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy, and Director, National Centre for Flood Research, at Southern Cross University

“It is a tragedy that many millions of dollars have been spent for so long on the management of the Murray Darling Basin, and yet we still see multiple examples of how things are going wrong.

Of course this is a hugely complex system with challenges manifested at all geographical scales, but nevertheless, surely we could do better if we could all agree that managing rivers, for river health, should be the priority, rather than managing them for economic benefit or political gain.

Rivers are a cornerstone of our life support system, and without healthy rivers, our entire food system will collapse. As producers, consumers, recreational users and politicians, we need to put individual self interest behind us, and work towards a common goal.

EXPERT REACTION: Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission

Water Is Life!! Cooperation Is The Key!! United we Stand!!

Day 14 – January 18th, 2020

Disclosure 10 – Water is the new gold: Greed for water is collapsing our life support systems.

September 2019 – Big irrigators take 86% of water extracted from Barwon-Darling, report finds:

The NSW Natural Resources Commission released the report by the Australian Rivers Institute professor Fran Sheldon on Monday night, after it received criticism for the claim that extraction of water by cotton growers had pushed the river system into hydrological drought three years early.

Sheldon found that of the 158 licence holders in the Barwon-Darling, just 10 control 86% of the water extracted and four control 75%.

The report found that the combination of the 2012 water-sharing rules and changes in climate have increased the warming and drying trend in the basin and that these factors were combining to pose serious risks to the Barwon-Darling system.

“The most significant risk is the failure of water management approaches to meet the ‘maintenance’ flows for the Barwon-Darling, resulting in a loss of ecosystem resilience,” the report found.

“The volume of water extracted under the A Class Licence rules [the highest level of water rights] has increased since 2012 due to changes in access arrangements made in 2012, with a marked increase in the volume between 2014- 2017,” the report found.


August 2019 – Barwon-Darling river ecosystem on path to collapse, review warns

The Murray-Darling river system managed by NSW – the Barwon-Darling – is “an ecosystem in crisis” which is on a path to collapse and urgent reforms are needed to save it, a review has warned.

The NSW Natural Resources Commission was asked to bring forward a statutory review of the Barwon-Darling by the previous minister Niall Blair, after ABC’s Four Corners aired allegations in 2017 of widespread water theft and another independent report raised serious doubts about the river’s management.

Since then there have been several mass fish deaths downstream at Menindee with two reviews identifying over-extraction by the cotton industry as the main cause.

Now the commission, a government body charged with managing the state’s resources, has warned the key plan for the Barwon-Darling is to blame and needs an urgent overhaul.

The report was also very critical of the government’s failure to allocate water in line with Native Title. Indigenous communities along the Darling, which they call the Barka, have been calling for proper recognition of the cultural importance of the river through rights to water.

“The health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people is strongly connected to the health of the river. Aboriginal community members repeatedly told the commission that the lack of flows since 2012 has resulted in poor water quality, an inability to swim or fish, damage to culturally significant places, lack of social cohesion and a decline in cultural practices.”


2018 – NSW minister altered Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan to favour irrigators
Exclusive: Documents show Katrina Hodgkinson changed plan to allow irrigators to extract up to 32% more after lobbying.

A water-sharing plan for the Barwon-Darling was altered by the former New South Wales minister for primary industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, even though public consultations on the draft plan had ended and her bureaucrats had already submitted a draft for her to sign.

The changes made it more favourable to irrigators and delivered valuable additional water during low flows. According to some modelling it may have increased legal extractions by irrigators by 32%.

Documents obtained by the Guardian, including ministerial briefing notes and minutes, show that NSW bureaucrats and an independent panel charged with assessing the public submissions thought they had come up with a balanced plan, which they put to the minister for signature in about June 2012.

But even though the public process had closed, an irrigator lobbyist, Ian Cole, who was chair of the body representing large irrigators, Barwon-Darling Water, ramped up his representations directly to the minister.

By October, when the plan was signed off by the minister, a number of his suggested changes had been accepted.


October 2019 – Australian farmers pushed into drought three years early because of greedy and thieving corporates.

The more you read about the drought and water buy-back scandal the more it becomes obvious the rich are prospering by ripping off taxpayers as well as prospering off the financial tragedy of the bush people losing their farms. What can’t be denied is that the federal and state governments are well aware of this and are ducking and weaving avoiding the problem as their donors and individual MP’s are also profiting.

In February 2018 it was reported that ICAC was investigating two NSW Liberal Party ministers:

The formulation of the plan is now a major element of an investigation by the Independent Commission against Corruption, which is also looking into the NSW government’s handling of allegations of water theft and meter tampering in the region.

The inquiry is likely to examine the actions of two former NSW National party ministers: Hodgkinson, who retired from parliament in September last year, and Kevin Humphries who was dropped as junior water minister in 2015 but who remains the local member for the state seat of Barwon.

It was also reported in October 2017:

ICAC has begun a preliminary ¬investigation into whether NSW public officials favoured Nationals donor and irrigator Peter Harris by not prosecuting him over ¬alleged water theft.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is also investigating whether public officials made decisions in favour of western NSW irrigator and lobbyist Ian Cole by changing water-sharing arrangements to benefit him.

At this point, ICAC has taken no action that I know of but that might be more to do with the appointment of the Liberal Party friendly Peter Hall as ICAC Commissioner. The above is a good start to building a prima facie case that the federal politicians won’t act on the drought in regards to water theft because to do so would upset their cotton farming financial donors and it would also likely put some state and federal MP’s in jail.

Water theft has been a huge problem and well known for a long time. The ABC Four Corners broadcast a story in July 2017 titled “PUMP“. “People are profiteering… It’s the biggest water grab in Australia’s history.” said a Grazier. And we all know about Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, with the help of Barnaby Joyce, stealing $80 million for the public selling water to the government that didn’t exist.

The whole drought/water fraud and theft issue needs a Royal Commission solely focused on the crimes being committed by business people and politicians. This issue isn’t going anywhere and will get worse until the drought ends which could be a long way off.


Water Is Life !! Cooperation Is The Key !! United We Stand !!

Video 15 – Pumped: A must watch, to understand the situation unfolding in the Murray Darling Basin.


Video 16 – Its now or never: We must begin the restoration of our rivers and regeneration of the landscape while we still have biodiversity!!!

Video 17 – My next destination is the Brewarrina fish traps:
Lets look at how we repair the river’s and rehydrate the landscape.

Day 15 – January 19th, 2020

Video 18 – A dying river through a Childs eyes.

Disclosure 11 – Corporate cotton takes all, communities and environment can’t get none.

Australian Institute Press Release 15 March 2019

Note: ‘Barka’ is the name of the Darling River used by Traditional Owners.

Big irrigators first, communities later: River ‘owes’ water to cotton

New research released today by The Australia Institute shows that around 2,000 gigalitres of water ( 4 Sydney Harbours ) were used for cotton crops in the northern Murray Darling Basin in the last year, while less than 11 gigalitres made it downstream to Wilcannia where residents have no drinking water

Almost no water reached Menindee, the site of the summer fish kills.

This is not unusual – the Australia Institute report shows that big cotton crops in very dry years are common and, perversely, the Barwon-Darling/Barka River is actually in ‘debt’ to irrigators, owing them water that it does not currently have.

“The public is told that annual crops like cotton are good for the Basin because if there’s no water, they aren’t planted,” said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute. “But data shows that is not true. Four of the top 11 cotton crops were in years when virtually no water flowed past Bourke.

“Bad policies and storage in massive dams mean industry has a much more regular water supply than the refrain of ‘when it doesn’t rain we get no water’ suggests.”

“Despite years of unsustainable extraction, bad policy means the Barwon-Darling/Barka River is actually in ‘debt’ to irrigators to the tune of 635 gigalitres,” said Bill Johnson, Professional Associate with the University of Canberra and co-author.

“When the water isn’t in the river, the amount owed to irrigation keeps accruing. The river is underwriting the risk of water security for the irrigation sector.”

Maryanne Slattery said the river is unlikely to ever repay this ‘debt’ because of climate change, increased extractions and the allocation policies up stream.

“With the river being in debt to irrigators, there is a real risk that future flows will be diverted to crops and not used to allow the environment and downstream communities to recover from crippling drought,” said Slattery.

“The Barwon-Darling/Barka River will only return to health if fundamental changes are made to its system of management. While the rules governing the river’s use are under review, serious reform can only be undertaken if all stakeholders come together and have an honest and calm discussion, without recriminations, about what is an isn’t working.

“It is our fear that the NSW Government’s upcoming Water Resource Plan, in conjunction with the failing Murray Darling Basin Plan, will not fix this broken system.

“We know that continual mismanagement of the Murray Darling Basin led to the horrific scenes of rivers full of dead fish at Menindee and communities like Wilcannia and Walgett running out of water.

“For example, when NSW and Federal governments and agencies knew that too much water was being diverted from the Barwon-Darling/Barka. Rather than enforcing limits, they changed their computer models to show that water diversions were within the existing policy.

“Another problem is ‘floodplain harvesting’ – the diversion of floodwater into massive private dams. This is not even measured by water agencies even though around 1,000 gigalitres evaporates out of the dams each year.

“Taxpayers are spending $13 billion dollars on the Basin Plan and clearly they are not getting value for money.”

Australian Institute Press release

Australian Institute full report March 2019

Water Is Life !! Cooperation Is The Key !! United We Stand !!

Day 16 – January 20th, 2020

Disclosure 12 – Water for profit: Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

IN THE BLACK – Water rights, trading and the new water barons – 01 Nov 2017

Water has always been a precious commodity for Australian farmers, and it’s becoming equally valuable to those investors who can understand the market’s complexities!

If there is such a thing as a no-brainer investment, it might just be water. Its slow but steady dissipation is one of the great fears associated with scientists’ climate change predictions. We all need it, it’s always in demand and it is often described as the world’s most precious resource.

Climatologists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have forecast that the southern part of Australia will receive 10 per cent less rainfall and run-off by 2030 than it does now, and the signs are already here. The Bureau of Meteorology recorded June 2017 as the driest ever for large parts of southern Australia, and the winter for the whole of the country was the ninth driest on record.

Yet if water usage is increasing, food markets are growing and climate change is coming, surely the value of the underlying commodity can only move one way.

That’s a lot of money, but only a handful of institutional fund managers invest directly in water, and not a single retail fund does so. Only two easily investable shares could be described as offering direct exposure to the water markets – agricultural stock Webster, and the very recently listed fund Duxton Water.

Water trading has long been considered a closed cabal, the preserve of in-the-know farmers and irrigators. That’s understandable as they’re the big users, but closed shops also tend to lack transparency.

Lex Batters, chief executive of recently launched water exchange H2OX, says that until the exchanges brought in central pricing, users “were making up their own prices”. Since the advent of real-time pricing, irrigators, farmers, water brokers and investors can now trade water up and down the Murray-Darling – it’s open to all.

The four water exchanges with national footprints in Australia are H2OX, Waterfind, Ruralco and Water Exchange.

Williams, a corporate adviser and self-described “water bandit”, is a former chairman of Tasmanian aquaculture company Tassal. He was offered rights over 10,000 megalitres of water in return for a A$10 million investment in new irrigation schemes in the Tasmanian Midlands and lower South Esk schemes.

In the past five years, Williams says he has watched his water values rise from about A$1000 a megalitre to close to A$2000. Williams is part of a relatively new breed in agriculture: the water baron.

In the past year, there have been several funds raising capital for water, including Gilmore’s, whose fund is the only one with an environmental remit to return water to depleted wetlands.

“We’re talking about a market which is much smaller than property or listed equities, but still comfortably the largest water market in the world. It’s big enough now to accommodate institutional investment,” Gilmore says.

One of the few super funds to invest in water, VicSuper, has been accruing entitlements for close to a decade, initially investing in land in southern Victoria. Its chief executive Michael Dundon told INTHEBLACK that agriculture was the lure, but that the land came with water entitlements, which proved to be increasingly attractive over time.

“Climate change has been part of our thinking,” says Dundon. “Water was always going to become a more precious commodity, and we knew the federal government was buying back water. It could only appreciate,” he says.

Water – not land – has been the heavy lifter in the fund. VicSuper now has about A$150 million worth of water rights, almost three times the value of the agricultural land in its portfolio.

The irrigator-farmer gets access to that capital tied up in the water entitlement at an agreed price over a set period, and gets the same security of supply as if they owned the water themselves.

When the ABC’s Four Corners reported in July 2017 that water had been stolen on a seemingly massive scale in the northern Murray-Darling Basin, both city and country were outraged. The revelations were not just a case of rorting the system, but an attack on the environment.

In The Black full article https://www.intheblack.com/articles/…/01/water-rights-barons

Water Is Life !!
Cooperation Is The Key !! United We Stand !!

Video 19 – Corporation’s greed for water forces Aussie farmers to walk off their lands.

Video 20 – Big irrigators, corporations and investors capitalise on Aussie farmers grief when they are forced to leave the land.

Day 17 – January 21st, 2020

Video 21 – Where has all the water gone…. The corporations have stolen our life blood.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Pauline Watts Reply

    Reading this report has shocked me to the core. Those that have knowingly allowed this to happen over the years have to be charged with gross mismanagement. A wrap on the knuckles won’t cut it. Has to be custodial sentence. The seriousness of these crimes is huge. The major beneficiaries of water have to pay in $’s. These are the wealthiest farmers and their greed has cost smaller operators their livelihoods. They all need to be named and charged with water theft. They knew what they were doing. Despicable traitorous behaviour.

  2. Ray Howson Reply

    Thank you for your efforts in bringing to the table all of the issues affecting the Murray Darling Basin.
    I have emailed the Federal Water Minister, Minister Littleproud on a number of occassions in relation to the state of the Murray Darling, and particularly the Lower Darling. Tolarno Station I know has been advocating for a National Royal Commission on the corruption and poor management of this precious resource.
    Minister Littelproud’s office often responds with detailed explanations, referene to the water cop, and the establishent of another inquiry.
    All this is designed to do is make it appear that the government is doing something.
    I did point out to Minister Littleproud that his inquiry will be number 40, and solutions could be found quicker and cheaper by acting on the recommendations of the other 39. That advise was ignored.
    I will be emailing your findings to Senator Rex Patrick .
    He is the only Senator i know who has taken an interest in the Murray Darling, and has visited the area. That is more than can be said for Government members, who can’t seem to find the way.
    Again thank you.You have done the nation a great service.

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