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The New Year message: Be brave

As we enter 2023, the community-based Speak Up Campaign is encouraging governments at state and federal levels to “be brave” and accept past mistakes with water policy.

Chair Shelley Scoullar said there is an opportunity to accept the positives being achieved by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but also acknowledge that is has flaws which need to be addressed.

“The plan was devised to solve a political problem for the former Howard Government, which needed to boost its environmental credentials. While a plan was needed, when it was being developed there was too much political focus which has been to the detriment of communities throughout implementation.

“As we enter 2023 we should take stock of the plan’s shortcomings and be proactive in addressing them, rather than ignoring the obvious,” Mrs Scoullar said.

She said the top priority should no doubt be removing the 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’, which was an 11th hour addition to the plan as an inducement for South Australia to sign up.

“The 450 gigalitres is not required for the plan to be effective and provide for environmental and community needs. It is disappointing that it has been used as a political football, to the detriment of the plan and its implementation. We will start taking giant steps forward when governments accept that the numbers were not right and scrap the ‘450’,” Mrs Scoullar said.

The Speak Up Campaign is advocating for money to be redirected to projects which can improve the quality of water and deliver environmental outcomes. This could include waste water treatment (especially required in the wake of blue-green algae events), snagging and revegetation of rivers, as well as native fish restocking and reducing the proliferation of European carp which are being provided with ideal breeding conditions.

“We also need to recognise that the Southern Connected System above the Barmah Choke does not have the capacity to deliver any more water to the South Australian border,” Mrs Scoullar said.

“We have had enough flood damage in the past 12 years, without providing the scenario for man-made floods by trying to force too much water down the system. Let’s learn from the flood events and use the knowledge to improve water management.

“The recent errors in river flows have shown that computer models do not always provide the right answers, so why not take a different approach and listen to local knowledge and concerns. Authorities at state and federal level may be surprised at how beneficial it can be to take on board some advice from people who have lived and breathed our river environs for decades, if not generations.”

In conclusion, Mrs Scoullar emphasised the need for governments to “be brave; show courage”.

“Standing up to those who will not admit their mistakes, or those who want to continue riding a government funded gravy train, will never be easy. But livelihoods, communities and environments are at stake. Let’s get the Basin Plan right, instead of barging ahead with a plan that has flaws.”

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