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Irreversible destruction of the Murray River’s lower lakes

The imminent destruction of the freshwater ecology of the lower lakes of the Murray River on the grounds that upstream freshwater supplies are insufficient to flush them out and that stored water suppliesin the river system must be safeguarded for human consumption might well be justified on triage grounds but it is nevertheless an alarming policy failure. The present government can hardly be held entirely responsible for the current situation – this represents a policy failure by government that goes back decades. The claim by Greg Hunt that Penny Wong is behaving like Saddam Hussein in destroying Ramsar listed wetlands is completely over the top – the catastrophe that is emerging also implies culpability through the successive policy failures of Coalition governments. Of course Wong’s claim that there are insufficient water resources should be thoroughly checked out but it seems likely to be an accurate summary of the current situation.

The inability of state and federal governments in Australia to reduce the excessive use of water in irrigation reflects a political failure of the Australian federal system. The only possible benefit from the destruction of these Ramsar-listed wetlands might be the impulse it provides governments in Australia to finally seek to address the environmental catastrophe emerging in the Murray-Darling as a consequence of excessive water use in agriculture. Labor is in power both federally and at state levels – it should now act to buy back excessive water use entitlements to prevent these types of situations recurring with the hope that the seemingly irreversible ecological effects of being forced to flood the lower lakes with saltwater can eventually be reversed.

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