Nationals leader, who had earlier blamed mass deaths on lack of rain, defends irrigators and plays down climate change
— The Nationals leader Michael McCormack has made his first visit to Menindee since the ecological disaster which led to the death of up to a million fish, claiming “we’re all experts in hindsight”.
The deputy prime minister visited the fish-kill ground-zero site with local Nationals MP Mark Coulton, who was also making his first visit since the mass death was reported early last month.
McCormack, who attempted to limit the water returned to the environment even further in the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin plan, calling it an “assault on regional Australia”, and had earlier prescribed the mass deaths to “it just hasn’t rained”, told reporters “we’re all experts in hindsight” when asked if the river could have been managed better.
“The fact is it hasn’t rained in some catchments for seven long years,” he said.
“Everybody will have a different opinion on what should or shouldn’t have been done – the fact is the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, with the CEO, Phillip Glyde, he’s putting into place what the Water Act of 2007 asked him.
“The authority is an independent statutory body, it’s doing what is legislated and been passed in a bipartisan way between all the states and the commonwealth.”
A royal commission ordered by the former South Australian Labor government into issues with the Murray-Darling River at its end found gross maladministration, negligence and unlawful actions in creating and administering the basin plan had led to the river system’s poor health.
The senior counsel to the royal commission, Richard Beasley, has subsequently said politics, not science, dictated how the Murray-Darling Basin plan was implemented, which led to irrigators receiving too much water at the expense of the environment.
McCormack, who has followed his predecessor’s lead in defending irrigators in the wake of the fish kill, said the blame pointed at cotton and rice farmers was “not entirely fair”.
“The fact is in the Cubby Station area there’s only been 300 hectares of cotton grown and they’re growing 1% of cotton across the basin that they could in a generally good season.
“They’ve had no water allocations – the fact is it is dry and governments can’t make it rain. If we could, we could. It’s a dire situation.
“It will be solved through better water sharing access and we appreciate that. That is why the federal government has asked to have a chair of an independent panel which will look at the fish kill, to look at other provisions of the plan and he will report back to government, back to the agriculture and water resources minister federally, David Littleproud, by 31 March.
“We will take action on his recommendations. I know there are other inquiries going on as well.
He also said the government was doing “everything we can”, acknowledging it was “a crisis”.
“Mark and I acknowledge that,” he said.
“So we’re doing everything we can. Mark, as a good, responsible, local member, has turned up today. We have, in good faith listened to the passion and seen the determination and we’ve heard about the devastation that this fish kill incident has caused.”
Asked if he would be visiting other towns in the region which are now running out of water, McCormack said he heard from people “in Walgett and other parts”, but made a point of mentioning his workload.
“That’s why I’m pleased I have such a good local member, Mark, who is getting out and about in his region and reporting back,” he said.
“The fact is it’s a big nation. You know, I’m dealing with fires in Tasmania, I’m also, you know, hearing about the devastation of the floods in Townsville and Julia Creek and Queensland.
“So, as the deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development, it’s a very big nation.
When asked about climate change, McCormack pivoted to attack Labor over energy policy differences.
“We are looking at climate, of course, climate has been changing since year dot,” he said.
“We’re more than meeting our emissions targets. We don’t want to deindustrialise Australia, or stop farmers from their agricultural pursuits.
“What we don’t want is what the Greens and Bill Shorten would have us do, and have 45% emissions targets which are unrealistic.
“We don’t want to go down a path of renewables, which is not going to solve anything, apart from de-industrialising Australia and making sure we don’t do manufacturing here and push electricity bills into the unaffordable state.”
by Amy Remeikis | The Guardian