More Dead Fish and Dying Sentiments

Toby Caro

There was plenty of disappointment but certainly no surprise waking up to the news of another haul of rotting fish at Menindee this morning. This marks the third such discovery in the last two months but is more dangerously another indication of governmental neglect for any sort of nuanced environmental policy.

The fish died from a deoxygenation of the water caused by an algae bloom, something induced by the recent irregular weather patterns of the region – apparently unfortunate but unavoidable.

Yet many locals cite the drainage of the Menindee Lakes as a leading contributor to the decline of the Darling River’s health. This is a fact tactlessly overlooked by the New South Wales Government in its bid to implement a pipeline in the region. The development would ostensibly stem the evaporation from the lakes and use the excess to equalise the rivers in the surrounding area. But given the trials in 2014 and 2017, it seems much more likely that The Menindee Lakes Project would only exacerbate the situation in the lower Darling and starve the river-dependent ecosystems within it.

If this looks reckless and irresponsible it is useful to note that the entire undertaking was necessitated by a change in federal policy which stopped buying back water from irrigators. Subsequently the state government rushed the proposal through without any public business tender or serious consultation.

Clearly this points to an entrenched predisposition of an indifference to public opinion.

Indeed the NSW Water Minister had previously installed aerators along the banks of the river. But their failure was not met with determination and resilience in finding a working alternative but with a statement that the problem was ‘out of his hands.’

This whole situation stinks of phony attempts to assure the public that plans are in place and problems being solved while the environment covertly slips into ruin.

Niall Blair’s recent visit is a perfect reflection of this. Despite personally making the trip out to Menindee, the Water Minister managed to avoid the locally-organised meeting of 150 people, only to give a press conference reiterating his narrative that no viable option had been proposed.

Hypocrisy and inaction are not choices sought by the public, but ones we will receive so long as this mess of a political culture continues to dominate the country. The sole concern of the major parties is electability, which is based on two qualities: perceived success and perceived opposition failure. With this in mind, it is no surprise that public correspondence comes in the form of deliberate ambiguity, unnecessary slander and vague, inaccessible and toothless policy.

However the government’s enduring position of sheer and inescapable bad-luck may be at its end with the conclusion of the Murray-Darling Royal Commission’s report. Handing in the results today, Commissioner Bret Walker has alluded to a hostile critique of ‘many governmental decisions and processes.’

What is most frustrating about this attitude however, is that it isn’t anything new. Australia has had many publicly-driven protests against unsustainable action squashed beneath the rigid methodology of its government. Most recently, tens of thousands of high school students rallied for climate change awareness, but were condemned by the prime minister on account of missing school.

The trivial focus of this response highlights the complete obliviousness of the government to its actions. Young people evidently cannot support a regime that sacrifices their future with wanton abandon in favour of short term employment in a dangerous industry.

The government also has stated that there will be no effort in emissions reduction in the next term, despite maintaining its confidence in meeting the 2030 Paris Agreement targets. This is yet another example of the responsibility shirking that has corroded the value of the promises of government.

People can only bear so much, and it seems as though this slippery leadership’s lukewarm policy is no longer going to cut it in the eyes of the public. Certainly now is the time to demand a monumental upheaval of attitude and accountability, indeed it may be the only time until it is too late.

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