Credit cards, drought, bad loans create crippling debt for rural Australians

Hardly a word about the feds  …

Not much is said to indicate that they are doing very little.  We get it … they are not mentioned because the lights are on … but no-one is there!

Where are they?  Are they busy allocating money to places and communities that don’t need it?

Credit cards, drought, bad loans create crippling debt for rural Australians

By national rural reporter Caitlyn Gribbin


An elderly man looks at his bills on a glass table

PHOTO: Peter (name changed) says he is depressed as a result of his personal debt. (ABC News: Clint Jasper)

EXTERNAL LINK: Use the Australia Talks interactive tool to see how Australians really think

RELATED STORY: Three years ago, Miriam was $100k in debt. Here’s how she got out

RELATED STORY: Struggling to scrape together a home deposit? Try these unconventional ways to save

RELATED STORY: We asked 54,000 Australians about their lives. Here’s what they told us

RELATED STORY: There’s only one kind of Australian not losing sleep over our nation’s problems

“I sit and just think … I can’t get over this hill.”

In a small town in country Australia an elderly man, who we will call Peter, shares his “ongoing heartache” about his fight to make ends meet.

“It overwhelms you. I’ve never suffered from depression in my life. I didn’t really know what depression was. I do now.”

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Peter has asked not to be identified as he shares his story of significant personal debt, which comes in the form of loans and a credit card.

His strict household budget is essential to starting to pay some of those loans back.

“My allowance is $300 a fortnight, the rest goes into the budget of planning when the amenities come in. If I go over that $300, then something goes.”

It is a constant battle to deal emotionally with his financial situation.

“There’s no light, the only light would be if I drop dead and that would be a lifesaver.

“My father lived to 91. God forbid, I hope I don’t live to 91 because I’d be absolutely mental trying to work it all out.”

‘The bills still have to be paid’

The Australia Talks National Survey has found more than 40 per cent of rural Australians are struggling to pay off debts, compared with a third of their city counterparts.

The same proportion of rural Australians are having trouble making ends meet generally, compared with 27 per cent of people in inner metro areas.

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Double the number of rural residents have personal loans, at 14 per cent compared with 7 per cent of inner city-dwellers, and more rural residents are paying off credit card debt.

How do you compare?

We asked 54,000 people about their lives. See what they told us — and how you compare.

*Drought is a big factor in this debt.

Debbie-Ann Wilmot, who owns a gift shop in Stanthorpe, said the drought had robbed her community of much of its income.

The town, three hours west of Brisbane, is due to run out of water by Christmas, but Ms Wilmot’s customer base has already dried up.

“People don’t have the money to spend, it depresses them. They can’t afford to shop so they don’t even want to look.”

A middle-aged woman in a yellow jumper looks downcast in a gift shop

PHOTO: The bills must be paid each week but business has dried up for shop-owner Debbie-Ann Wilmot. (ABC News: Caitlyn Gribbin)

That means it is not always possible to meet her small business loan repayments and monthly bills.

“Some weeks you’ve got to ring your suppliers and say I haven’t got a full amount.

“You’ve still got your rent to pay, your phone, your electricity, all the bills have got to be paid but there’s nobody coming through the door.”

Expensive stop-gap loans

Sandy Ross from the Financial and Consumer Rights Council says high-cost, short-term loans are partly to blame for the debt spiral.

“Our financial counsellors who work in rural and regional areas report some pretty horrendous stories about exposures to things like payday lending,” Mr Ross said.

“We suspect there’s a bit of targeting that goes on of people without many resources in rural and regional areas by payday lenders who are really unregulated and charge extremely high interest rates.”

A man in a suit looking professional

PHOTO: Sandy Ross has heard reports that payday lenders are preying on vulnerable rural residents. (Supplied: Patrick Rocca)

Mr Ross worries about the impact debt is having on rural mental health.

“Clients often express suicidal thoughts or extreme anxiety because of the hardship they’re in.

“They’re under significant stress and of course you need to also factor in things like the drought … those things affect what’s already pretty fragile in terms of rural and regional economies.”

If this story raises issues for you or a loved one, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Australians ranked household debt as the top problem facing Australia, along with cost of living and substance abuse, in the Australia Talks National SurveyUse our interactive tool to see more results and how your answers compare.

Then, tune in at 8.30pm on November 18, as the ABC hosts a live TV event with some of Australia’s best-loved celebrities exploring the key findings of the Australia Talks National Survey.




Australia facing climate change … How will it house, feed and quench more?


Australia’s population has ballooned by around 6.4 million people (34%) since 2000

ABS median projections for our population swelling to 42.6 million by 2066

.with 17.5 million of that growth to come via NOM

MEANWHILE Australia is undergoing record breaking droughts, fires, cyclones , floods, heatwaves, environmental degradation … soon food scarcity …

Australia facing climate change “mass migrant invasion”

By Unconventional Economist in Australian Economy

October 10, 2019 | 8 comments

As we already know, Australia massively increased its migrant intake in the early-2000s, and this has driven a three-fold increase in Australia’s net overseas migration (NOM) compared to the historical average:

*Accordingly, the Australian population has ballooned by around 6.4 million people (34%) so far this century.

*The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) median projections also have Australia’s population swelling to 42.6 million by 2066, with 17.5 million of that growth to come via NOM:

According to former Australian defence chief Chris Barrie, we have not seen anything yet. Barrie predicts that climate change “will induce a mass migrant invasion of Australia”. From The Australian:

[Barrie] warned that fresh-water shortages, together with crushing population densities across the Indo-Pacific, could unleash a wave of mass migration towards Australia…

[Barrie] said the melting of the Himalayan glacier, which scientists predict will shrink by at least a third if temperatures rise by 1.5C, would create “a very high risk” that fresh water would not be available for hundreds of millions of people…. Countries such as Bangladesh — with a population density of more than 1370 per square km by 2050 — would then start looking towards Australia “for a new home”.

“With the lack of fresh water will also go a lack of food. And once people start, they will do anything,” he said…

Let’s assume Admiral Barrie is right. Then why is Australia already running a mass immigration program in preparation of this climate catastrophe?

Our major cities’ dam storages are already plummeting and becoming increasingly reliant on desalination. Whereas many of our regional areas are gripped with severe drought.

Australia already lacks water supplies for its existing population, let alone tens of millions more people.

Photo: SBS: Struggle Street





THIS illustrates why the DROUGHT is driving the POPULATION from the REGIONS to our Cities! Here, for example, at what was Lake Burrendong …


From sunken forests to garden beds: This is what’s at the bottom of Lake Burrendong

By the Specialist Reporting Team’s Penny TimmsEmily Clark and Brendan Esposito

5 OCTOBER 2019

Dead trees stand out of the water.

PHOTO: Burrendong Dam is currently at 4.4 per cent capacity. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

RELATED STORY: As the drought bites, memories surface of idyllic days spent swimming in the outback

RELATED STORY: The country town that’s run out of water

RELATED STORY: Immediate cash injection part of extra $100m going to drought-stricken communities

In New South Wales, the relics of a time when people didn’t just pray for rain but planned for it too are emerging from the depths of one of the country’s biggest dams.

Decades ago, the community of Burrendong in the state’s central west was flooded to create a water supply.

It was a town sacrificed for the greater good, but as the lake dries up, reminders of what was there before are being exposed — stuck both in the cracked earth and in time.

A line of rotted out old fence posts are seen poking out of the cracked earth.

PHOTO: Old fence posts are seen on land normally underwater in Lake Burrendong. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

At capacity, Lake Burrendong can hold three times as much water as Sydney Harbour. In November 2016, it was at 120 per cent. Now, it’s at 4.4 per cent.Follow this story to get email or text alerts from ABC News when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story

Before it was a playground for boating and fishing enthusiasts, Burrendong was “quite a sensible little town”, according to former resident Dale Edwards.

“When I went there, I was under the assumption that it would be resumed, so I sort of agreed to myself — the day would come,” he said.

He said at the time, the feeling among the community was that ultimately the dam was worth it, but they knew the water was taking a lot of “good river country”.

A rusted old windmill lays on the ground.

PHOTO: An old windmill lies on the ground — once the bottom of Lake Burrendong. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Cement steps sit in a dry, empty plain.

PHOTO: The receding waterline reveals the stoop of an old building that was once flooded by the reservoir. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Mr Edwards, now 79 and living in Mudgee, said when his property was resumed in 1964, he was one of the youngest landholders to make way for the water storage.

As his story goes, the community implored him to write its history down.

“I had so many people chewing my ear saying you know more than anyone else, God’s sake write it down,” Mr Edwards said

He wrote a book — The Ghosts of Burrendong — so there was a record of what went under.

The amateur historian said most of the properties that were now exposed were once sheep farms, some employing and housing several families.

A circle of rocks can be seen in the dirt.

PHOTO: As the waterline of the Burrendong Lake recedes, a garden bed is revealed. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

An old boiler is seen on land normally under water in Lake Burrendong, NSW.

PHOTO: An old boiler is seen on land normally underwater in Lake Burrendong. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

When all the people were gone and it was time for the water to arrive, it all happened a lot faster than planned.

“It’s funny how it goes. I remember with Burrendong, they reckoned it would take three years to fill it up when they closed it off,” Mr Edwards said.

“There were two solid weeks of rain and it filled in a fortnight. Jeez, it filled quick.”

Today though, the region is much more likely to see dust storms.

A dead tree is seen in a paddock during a dust storm in Parkes, NSW.

PHOTO: A dead tree in a paddock during a dust storm in Parkes, New South Wales. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Mr Edwards’ house never went under — even when the dam is full, it still sits as one of the properties resumed, but not flooded.

Despite a pragmatic acceptance of the dam, he laments just how much of the country it swallowed up.

“There’s a lot of good country being wasted,” Mr Edwards said.

“[It’s] home to all the noxious animals and noxious weeds and no-one is living on them, so no-one is keeping track of those sorts of things.”

Horses gather around a disused windmill in drought-affected paddocks during a dust storm in Parkes, NSW.

PHOTO: Horses gather around a disused windmill in drought-affected paddocks. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Drought-affected land can be seen through the windows of an abandoned home in Parkes, NSW.

PHOTO: Drought-ravaged paddocks are seen through the broken windows of an abandoned home. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Dougall Campbell is one of the lucky ones who still runs sheep.

His family has lived in the area for six generations, and even as the big dry tightens its grip, he’s determined to hold onto his property and livelihood.

“It’s all pretty ordinary out here now, very ordinary in fact,” Mr Campbell said.

“I mean, it’s been two years of this now and I can’t say it’s been easy.”Do you know more about this story? Email

A baby lamb covered in red dust during a dust storm in Parkes NSW.

PHOTO: A lamb is seen lying in a paddock during a dust storm. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Strong lamb and wool prices have helped soften the blow of the drought for Mr Campbell, who said life felt much worse in the early 2000s when the conditions were tough but commodity prices were low.

“I really noticed it then, the whole town just shrinks when that happens,” he said.

“If you have really poor commodity prices, you just can’t pay anyone, so the whole town suffers.”

This time around, he said he had not noticed as many people leaving.

A truck used for carrying animal stock is seen on a back road during a red coloured dust storm in Parkes, NSW.

PHOTO: A truck used for carrying animal stock is seen on a back road near Parkes, NSW. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“We stock merino sheep on our property. We were forced to destock most of them last year when the drought really kicked in. We’re now left with really my core breeding stock. I’m just trying to hold on to them for as long as I can. But, it really depends on rain.

“If we don’t get it soon, who knows?”

Wellington is one of the main regional centres near Burrendong and it sits inside the Dubbo Shire.

Mr Campbell said it was difficult to describe the sentiment around town, but admitted the drought and dreams of rain were the main topics of conversation, no matter where you go.

Trees stand tall  in drought-affected paddocks during a dust storm in Parkes, NSW.

PHOTO: Trees stand tall in drought-affected paddocks in central-west NSW. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

During times of adversity, sport and other social events are the lifeblood of small communities. It’s the same for the NSW central west.

“Oh, they’re crucial!” Mr Campbell said.

“We’ve even got our own farmers’ cricket team going on, not that we’re very good. It’s not so much about the result than it is about the jokes we make on the field and the fact we get to have a beer all together at the end of it.

“Plus, I think all the wives like the fact that we’re out of their hair for a while!”

But, with water restrictions tightening, Mr Campbell is unsure how much longer sporting fields will be watered.

“When it stops, I don’t think anyone will be taking a dive for the ball; they’ll just let it go through for a four.”

A cricket player wearing white cricket clothing is seen in the field during a red coloured dust storm in Parkes NSW.

PHOTO: Sporting fields are still watered, but possibly not for much longer. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)





Paul Bongiorno

Paul Bongiorno
is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Coalition flailing on drought

Prime ministers do their best to hide it, but the fact is governing involves mostly flying by the seat of your pants. And this is particularly true for the Morrison administration, now into its sixth month after its surprise election win. It is scrambling to persuade the nation it really knows what it is on about and how it will achieve it. The drought and a stubbornly sluggish economy aren’t helping. Nor is Morrison’s new best mate, Donald Trump.

Journalists who followed the prime minister on his United States odyssey say by the end of last week Morrison was giving every indication he couldn’t wait to escape the Trump bubble. When he was asked to ruminate on the trip’s highs and lows, he gave a lick and a promise to the enduring alliance but quickly added, “The second I touch down, I’ll be taking off again and heading out to drought-affected communities in Australia.”

True to his word, on arrival in Sydney, Morrison jumped from his big jet – “Shark One” – to a smaller one and went straight to the dust bowl that the once-lush Darling Downs have become. There, in trademark fashion, he spoke of the $7 billion for drought relief he had already announced and unveiled another $100 million on top of that. The locals were a tad sceptical. One reporter chimed in, “But you don’t have seven billion in the bank today for drought.” That forced the prime minister to admit the amount “is building up over time”. He said hundreds of millions have already been spent.

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Labor is even more sceptical about the $7 billion figure. Shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon says $5 billion of it is the Future Drought Fund, which doesn’t start until next July, and not one cent of the fund goes directly to farmers. As far as Fitzgibbon can see, the total is arrived at by counting $2 billion earmarked for concessional loans – not exactly the sort of relief farmers need, having not pulled an income for several years and with no prospects of doing so for who knows how long.

Fitzgibbon is now calling for the auditor-general to take a close look at the millions the government is spending or says it is. He is convinced much of it is an ad hoc shambles that is pork-barrelling Coalition electorates and ignoring Labor ones. Fuelling his suspicions is the allocation of $1 million of drought relief for the Moyne Shire in south-western Victoria. It was one of 13 council areas nationwide to receive the funding under the Drought Communities Program. At first the government claimed the allocation was based on “the science” in the Bureau of Meteorology’s drought maps. Then it was pointed out the bureau’s maps do not indicate rainfall deficiency for the area.

At its meeting on Tuesday the shire’s councillors unanimously voted not to accept the money. Mayor Mick Wolfe explained, “We are not in a drought down here … We appreciate the offer, but give it to somewhere that really needs it.” The shire is in the safe Liberal electorate of Wannon, held by Education Minister Dan Tehan.

The mayor of the drought-stricken Inverell Shire in New South Wales, Paul Harmon, congratulated the Moyne Shire for its leadership and honesty. He told RN Breakfast it was worth “[asking] the question as to who makes those decisions … That’s probably more the key issue.”THE HANDLING OF THE DROUGHT AND THE ECONOMY DOESN’T QUITE MATCH THE GOVERNMENT’S HYPE. NOR DOES THE MANAGEMENT OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR BIGGEST ALLY, THE US.

Midweek, Labor leader Anthony Albanese did some pre-emptive drought touring to the southern Queensland town of Stanthorpe, which is rapidly running out of water. He claims he was invited by the locals. His arrival came neatly a day ahead of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud’s flagged three-day drought pilgrimage.

Labor says the government has had a drought taskforce, a drought co-ordinator, a drought envoy and a drought summit. “What we need,” Albanese said, “is actually a drought strategy, and the government simply doesn’t have one.” Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie assured ABC Radio she is working on it: a disarmingly frank admission from a government now into its seventh year.

The National Farmers’ Federation is not impressed. It says the country doesn’t have a wide, strategic drought policy. McKenzie bristles at the criticism, saying, “We’re waiting on the NFF to actually provide us with their views around what we should include in a long-term drought strategy before we release ours.” Fitzgibbon says it’s a great pity that one of the first things the Abbott government did in 2013 was tear up the historic intergovernmental agreement steered through the Council of Australian Governments. That process was to review all drought agreements and policies and “start again”.

Of course, if we are going to talk about the long term, it is simply crazy that a more serious commitment to climate change action is not also in the mix. The conflict the Nationals in particular have – between their coalminers and their farmers – goes a long way to explaining their science-denying myopia.

The economic impact of the drought is not expected to show up until the cropping season in December and January. But even so, agriculture accounts for only 2 per cent of the economy; other factors are at work in the Reserve Bank’s decision this week to drop the official cash rate to a historic low of 0.75 per cent. This is the first time the rate has dropped below 1 per cent, and it is a long way below the 3 per cent “emergency levels” the Liberals scoffed at during the global financial crisis.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tried to assure the nation everything was under control – which goes with his job description as booster in chief. Economist Stephen Koukoulas says the figures don’t suggest we are heading for a recession. That has been mightily helped by our strong export performance in “volume and prices”. Some believe this should have been enough to stay the Reserve Bank’s hand, especially in light of warnings from former treasurer Peter Costello and business figures that the downward spiral of interest rates would hurt confidence and may even revive unsustainable debt by way of a reinflated housing bubble.

On this last point the treasurer seems oblivious. His first reaction to the rate cut was to urge the banks to pass it on in full. There is a marked reluctance to do so, and this has a lot to do with their need to attract depositors by not cutting the rates on offer to investors. On that point, the government will be under renewed pressure to adjust the deeming rates it uses to calculate pension payments. At present the rate is 1.75 per cent up to a certain income threshold, and 3 per cent once that threshold is passed. Seniors’ groups say the deeming rates were already too high before this latest cash rate cut, meaning pensioners are hit by a lower government benefit as well as a lower rate of income from any savings they have.

Frydenberg is resisting calls to do more to stimulate the economy, saying he is sticking to his economic plan. That boils down to waiting for the already paid tax cuts to somehow begin flowing into spending – they haven’t yet – and to talk up the 10-year $100 billion infrastructure spending. In broad terms, that’s $10 billion a year, but in a $1.9 trillion economy it is not as much as it sounds. Labor says much of that infrastructure spending should be brought forward, along with the next tranche of tax cuts. But the other part of the plan is a budget surplus next year, which as far as the government is concerned will happen come hell or high water.

That surplus is supposed to be the touchstone of the Liberals’ superior economic management. But unless the economy begins translating into higher wages and more work hours for those with jobs, there won’t be much political dividend. Underemployment is now at 8.6 per cent; a year ago it was 8.1 per cent. That’s the slack in the labour market the Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, keeps talking about.

The handling of the drought and the economy doesn’t quite match the government’s hype. Nor does the management of our relationship with our biggest ally, the US. Or, more precisely, with President Donald Trump. One of Australia’s most experienced diplomats and a former ambassador to Washington, John McCarthy, believes the Morrison government has appeared too eager to embroil itself in US domestic politics. He told RN Breakfast it has landed itself in “a spot” it should have avoided. He is critical of our willingness to assist Trump in his mission to discredit the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

In Trump’s sights is Australia’s former high commissioner to Britain Alexander Downer, for passing on to Canberra the boast of then Trump aide George Papadopoulos that they had Russian-supplied dirt on Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. As a Five Eyes intelligence partner, Canberra passed that on to Washington, which triggered an FBI investigation. Trump sees it all as a political plot to damage him.

But McCarthy’s fears may be premature. The fact that Trump called Morrison on September 5, about three months after Australia’s ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey, promised to provide “all relevant information”, is a strong indication Australia was not providing enough.

In a Sky News interview, Morrison threw almost no light on “his brief conversation” with Trump. He tried to say there was nothing extraordinary in the president calling for “a point of contact between the Australian government and the US attorney”. The whole unbelievable tone was “there’s nothing to see here”. Evidently, he was just doing his best to fly by the seat of his pants. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 5, 2019 as “Beyond the shadow of a drought”. Subscribe here.


‘The wrong project in the wrong place’: Snowy 2.0 vision comes at a huge cost

Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme to power Australia’s renewable energy future looks like coming at a huge cost!

-20M2 largely undisturbed native alpine bush would be affected

.with nine million cubic metres of excavated rock spoil to be dumped throughout the park including in existing reservoirs, reducing their active storage capacities and stream flows

NSW NPA estimates a likely price tag of $10 billion for Snowy 2.0

‘The wrong project in the wrong place’: Malcolm Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 vision comes at a huge cost

The environmental impact assessment released last week gave the project a green light.

The environmental impact assessment released last week gave the project a green light. Photo: Snowy Hydro

Quentin Dempster

Quentin Dempster@QuentinDempster


Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s vision for the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme to power Australia’s renewable energy future looks like coming at a huge cost.

*Although a 2000-page environmental impact assessment released last week has given a green light to the largest electricity infrastructure project ever undertaken, expert objections to its cost in financial and environmental terms are alarming.

*“Initially promised at $2 billion, it was quickly revised to $4 billion and a contract for part of its construction has been agreed at $5.1 billion,” said Dr Bruce Mountain, director of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre.

And the New South Wales National Parks Association executive officer Gary Dunnett said in a statement that Kosciuszko National Park would be partially destroyed.

*Twenty square kilometres of largely undisturbed native alpine bush would be affected, with nine million cubic metres of excavated rock spoil to be dumped throughout the park including in existing reservoirs, reducing their active storage capacities and stream flows.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Tumut 3 power station. Photo: AAP

But the most disturbing critique has come through Dr Mountain’s analysis of the business case for Snowy 2.0 and its cost to taxpayers.

*When completed, Snowy 2.0 would not have a monopoly in Australia’s national electricity market.

“There has been no credible market assessment and this alone represents an unjustified risk,” Dr Mountain told The New Daily. 

His centre is undertaking a market impact study.

*The NSW NPA has said that a price tag of $10 billion for Snowy 2.0 now looks more likely when the cost of massive transmission upgrades and ongoing transmission operating costs to connect its new underground pumped hydropower station to the national grid is taken into account.

All of this capital and operating expenditure would buy a facility with 2000MW of production able to transmit to the national grid over several days if fully charged.

“It is inconceivable that Snowy 2.0 will produce revenues that are vaguely close to that needed to compensate its capital outlays,” Dr Mountain said. 

“This is because the volume of electricity it can produce, valued at the difference between the price paid to pump water uphill and the price received when running the water back down the hill again, will be too small.”

Dr Mountain said his objections could be validated through comparison with the pumped hydro system now operating in Wales, which had comparable capacity to Snowy 2.0 as currently projected.

The market value of the Wales system was a “small fraction” of its initial build and subsequent refurbishment costs.

Overview of the landscape of the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: AAP

Mr Dunnett said pumped hydro unquestionably had an important role to play in our future energy mix.

“That doesn’t mean that every pumped hydro project has acceptable environmental credentials, and Snowy 2.0 is simply the wrong project in the wrong place,” Mr Dunnett said.

“There are many better energy storage options that are more efficient, less costly and much less damaging to the environment.

“Snowy 2.0 doesn’t stack up environmentally or economically.” 

The EIS, which has been published without government fanfare, reported that only 0.25 per cent of Kosciuszko National Park would be within a “disturbance footprint”.

Snowy 2.0 is the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia and was “the most complex hydro-electric scheme in the world”.

It will link the existing Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs through a series of new underground tunnels and a hydro-electric power station, to be constructed within an underground cavern.

The scheme was justified in the context of Australia’s renewable energy future by providing 2000MW of dispatchable generating capacity to “ensure the stability and reliability of the national electricity market even during prolonged weather events such as wind or solar ‘droughts’.”

Snowy 2.0 will pump water through underground tunnels to the power station for “quick-start” electricity generation at critical times of peak demand “including when intermittent renewable energy output or thermal generation is low”.

The Tumut 3 power station at the Snowy Hydro Scheme in Talbingo. Photo: AAP

The EIS reported that the requirement for an urgent and more stable transition to renewables had been confirmed by independent experts, including the Finkel Review.

Although other potential pumped hydro-electric storage sites had been identified, the planning and lead times were too long.

Snowy 2.0 is due to be operational by the mid-2020s.

But Dr Mountain said the project should now be paused because of the rapidly escalating costs.

“My central point is that something that is as risky and expensive as this demands a proper public assessment and market testing,” Dr Mountain said.

“An investment bank should be retained to estimate how much Snowy 2.0 would be worth if it was built.

“We should pause the project until this is done. This is desperately needed to provide confidence to taxpayers that their money will not be flushed down the drain.” 

Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism

Snowy Hydro scheme channel.

Photo: ABC




END OF FRUIT CROPPING ALONG LOWER DARLING RIVER … A big loss for Industry … as Growers pushed to Brink!

MEANWHILE … ‘Moyne Shire Council Mayor Mick Wolfe told the ABC if it was his decision alone, he would refuse the money because he does not think the region is in drought.’

Money was allocated where it wasn’t needed!

WT Scomo *?

End of fruit cropping along lower Darling River a ‘big loss’ for industry, as growers pushed to brink

ABC Broken Hill By Christopher Testa Declan Gooch and Saskia Mabin


Two citrus pickers wearing long sleeves and pants stand close to a tree, one kneeling, picking mandarins.

PHOTO: The final citrus and grape harvest is under way at Alan Whyte’s property. (ABC Rural: Saskia Mabin)

RELATED STORY: ‘We’re still being strung along’: Darling River citrus growers forced to give up on crops as they wait on water buyback

RELATED STORY: Forests flooding while rivers run dry: two tales of one river system

RELATED STORY: More fish deaths and water shortages possible as flow to lower Darling River turned off

The end of irrigated horticulture on the lower Darling River will cost the citrus industry decades of technical expertise, according to the country’s largest citrus exporter.

Key points

  • Six citrus growing families have run out of water to irrigate their crops
  • A long-awaited Federal Government compensation package is yet to be agreed
  • The growers are having to let their crops die while they wait

Fruit growers on the lower Darling have begun turning off the water to their permanent plantings — killing their trees — as they harvest what will be the final citrus crop grown in the valley.

“That’s the end of the business. It’s as simple as that,” Alan Whyte of Jamesville Station said.

“You can’t pick up the tree and park it, you can’t mothball it then think you’ll fire it up in two years’ time.”

Six families in the area have spent five years negotiating with the Commonwealth to hand back their high-security water licences in exchange for compensation to exit the industry.

Now, with virtually no irrigation water left, they have been forced to turn off the taps before a deal has been reached.

“This current season has been quite good, we’ve had a good crop of fruit, but there won’t be another crop from here, ever,” Mr Whyte said.

Alan Whyte, wearing a hat, faces the camera with his hands on a depth post on the edge of the Darling River.

PHOTO: Alan Whyte says it’s no longer possible to access a reliable water supply for irrigation on the Darling. (ABC Rural: Saskia Mabin)

‘Big loss to the industry’

Mr Whyte has supplied the Mildura Fruit Company for more than 25 years and, with his father, was a pioneer of fruit growing in the district.

The company’s grower services manager, Bill Robinson, said the Whytes were “very technically advanced” growers who produced high-quality fruit.

Two men stand facing the camera wearing polo shirts and caps with foliage behind them.

PHOTO: Bill Robinson (left) from Mildura Fruit Company and Colignan citrus grower Rohan Ashley. (ABC News: Christopher Testa)

Despite the uncertainty surrounding his business, Mr Whyte went on a study tour in March to Australia’s biggest citrus-growing competitors in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile and Peru.

“Alan was obviously very hopeful that things would change,” Mr Robinson said.

“He’s learnt the best growing techniques and the best varieties to grow on his property and he’s implemented that over 20, 25 years, so it’s a big loss to the Australian industry as a whole.

“He’s up in the top 10, 15 per cent of the growers that grow the best fruit and, more importantly, the best varieties.”

‘Nowhere to turn’

Rachel Strachan of Tulney Point Station said the collapse of the local industry and the threat to her family’s livelihood was causing significant stress.

“I don’t know how we’re going to put food on the table, I really, really don’t, because all of our income stream is through horticulture,” she said.

“We have nowhere to turn at the moment.”

Rachel Strachan sits facing the camera on a log on the dry Darling riverbed.

PHOTO: Rachel Strachan says without a deal with the Government, she’ll struggle to put food on the table. (ABC Rural: Saskia Mabin)

Nerida Healy of Court Nareen Station between Pooncarie and Menindee said the pressure had started affecting her children.

“It’s a bit sad when your kids actually play meetings as their game and they set up at the computer,” Ms Healy said.

“My two-year-old said to me one day, ‘Shhh, I just need to do these emails and I just need some quiet’.”

Mr Whyte said the past five years had been a “pretty tough ride”.

“The balance sheets on those properties have been destroyed … and you can’t really sell or list for sale or value any of those properties at anything other than dryland properties at the moment.”

At the Mildura Fruit Company, Mr Robinson said he had made personal connections with the growers.

“Now the trees are dying, I think, psychologically, it must be very, very hard,” he said.

A child in a red shirt sits on the bow of a boat propped up in a front yard holding a fishing rod.

PHOTO: The front yard is the only place Hayden Healy can cast a line at Court Nareen Station these days. (ABC Rural: Saskia Mabin)

“We asked Alan how he was coping. He said he was coping quite good up until the week the trees were starting to die and he’s been struggling since then.”

The federal Department of Agriculture said independent experts had visited each of the properties and were preparing reports.

“Negotiations on the terms of a potential agreement are expected to commence in October, once the department has considered the independent expert advice and is satisfied that any future agreement would represent value for money,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Victoria takes an interest

The looming end of irrigated horticulture in the lower Darling has begun to capture political attention south of the River Murray.

Independent state MPs Suzanna Sheed and Ali Cupper toured the area and visited the Whyte and Strachan properties earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a Murray-Darling Basin Plan project to reduce the volume of water usually stored in the Menindee Lakes, which feed the lower Darling, could make cropping unviable even if flows return.

Victorian Government staff briefed stakeholders in Mildura about the state’s role in the project, which aims to offset 100 gigalitres of water by reducing evaporation and improving efficiency.

The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said it wanted to make sure the project did not leave irrigators, communities or the environment worse off.

“We want to ensure the proposed project doesn’t have any adverse impact on reliability and deliverability of water supplies for Victorian Murray water users, downstream communities including those around Mildura, and environmental values,” a spokeswoman said.




BARILARO: Nationals want planning overhaul before NSW Government is forced to ‘tax the hell out of people’

IS the National Party there to represent the country people, or international mining interests over and above them?

With the foreign buy-up of Australia’s assets do we not lose Our Sovereignty?

Would it not appear that the IPC was brought in to operate independently of the government of the day to prevent further corruption?

Isn’t mining largely automated?

View: Putting Mining Job Losses in Perspective

Poooor Barilaro … p.rk bar.laro

Nationals want planning overhaul before NSW Government is forced to ‘tax the hell out of people’

ABC Upper Hunter By Amelia Bernasconi and Mike Pritchard

2 OCTOBER 2019

A man raising his eyebrows

PHOTO: John Barilaro says uncertainty around the commission’s decision-making could affect mining investment. (AAP: Joel Carrett)

RELATED STORY: Coal mine knocked back over ‘significant concern’ about long-lasting environmental impacts

The National Party wants an urgent overhaul of the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC), as Deputy Premier John Barilaro forges ahead with his goal of making the state Australia’s top mining investment destination.

Key points:

  • Nationals MPs want changes to the planning commission to give foreign investors certainty over the approvals process for major developments
  • The calls come in response to the rejection of a proposed multi-million-dollar Bylong Valley coal mine
  • The independent commission was brought in last year in the wake of corruption under the former Labor government

The party says without changes, the Government will be forced to “tax the hell out of people”, with foreign investors having no certainty in the planning process on major developments.

South Korean company Kepco spent $700 million buying and developing land for its proposed Bylong Valley coal mine in the state’s central west, only for it to be refused by the IPC.

Now, Mr Barilaro said he feared potential investors would not pursue projects in NSW unless changes were made.

“Uncertainty around the IPC’s decision-making process is creating a sovereign risk for mining investment in NSW,” he said.

“There is a lack of consistency, a lack of certainty, and the length of time taken to reach some of these decisions is unacceptable.

“Potential investors don’t have to pursue projects in NSW, and unless there are changes to the IPC, the concern is that many will choose not to.”

Three people seated behind a desk at a hearing.

PHOTO: The local mayor says the transparency of the IPC is far greater than “a decision made by a minister behind closed doors”. (ABC Upper Hunter: Eliza Goetze)

There has also been criticism from the NSW Minerals Council, which has launched a public campaign calling on the State Government to act.

“The IPC now seems to be setting its own policy agenda, ignoring the policy settings of the elected government of the day,” chief executive Stephen Galilee said.

“It’s ignoring the assessment recommendations of the Department of Planning itself, and making determinations based on a different set of circumstances other than the priorities of the elected governments.

“That’s creating uncertainty for our sector.”

The IPC was brought in last year to replace the Planning Assessment Committee in the wake of Labor Party corruption, operating independently of the government.

A sign alongside a country road says 'cook with gas — it makes the coal taste better. No Mining or CSG in the Bylong valley'

PHOTO: There was strong local opposition to the mine proposal. (Supplied)

Bylong mine decision a tipping point

Michael Johnsen, the Nationals Member for the Upper Hunter, said an independent body had a place in the decision-making process but that a significant review was needed.

“I think that’s only fair and reasonable, but they should be an advisory body, not a decision-making body,” he said.

“We can’t have an independent body turn around and basically go against all the recommendations and all the experts. That’s wrong. It can’t happen.”

The Bylong Valley decision is seemingly the tipping point for those calling for change.

“I actually want to see the State Government, through cabinet, take back control of the decision making with state-significant developments,” Mr Johnsen said.

“The state’s own major infrastructure projects don’t go through the process — if it’s good enough for the private sector, why not give it to the public sector as well?”

“If we’ve got some levels of falling revenue, we’ve got two choices to make it up: we can tax the hell out of people, or we can bring back some confidence into the international investment market and invest and create jobs and income in NSW.”

A man in an akubra leans on a farm fence post.

PHOTO: Graham ‘Tag’ Tanner spent eight years lobbying against the mine project, which neighbours his property. (ABC Upper Hunter: Amelia Bernasconi)

But Martin Rush, the Mayor of Muswellbrook Shire, which is the largest producer of coal in the state, was quick to remind the Government that it established the IPC.

“They set the system up and said, ‘This will be great, it’ll take the political decision making out of the process and make it a fair process, it’ll take the politics out’,” Cr Rush, a former ALP candidate, said.

“Then when they get a decision they don’t like, they attack it.

“I think the IPC, broadly speaking, could be better resourced, but it is certainly doing the job that they need to do.”

While Kepco could challenge the Bylong Valley judgment in court, the Government is unlikely to step in.

“It doesn’t have the power to overturn this particular decision without making retrospective changes to legislation, and there’s no appetite to do that,” Mr Johnsen said.

“I wouldn’t recommend the Government make retrospective changes; that’s always a bit of a dangerous thing to do.”

Contact Amelia Bernasconi




Battle for the Fitzroy River: Kimberley divided over bid to harvest precious resource


‘They just can’t leave anything alone, they want to exercise what they consider their right to interfere in natural processes that have determined the landscape for millions of years.

I have briefly visited this area and can say it’s fragile, really fragile. It’s so fragile that it may take years for a vehicle’s track to be erased.

It is a beautiful place that should be allowed to remain largely untouched, that only superficial impacts be made, let the water flow, the grasses grow and die, the animals live as they have forever and actually reduce the stocking rates so that over time the Kimberley area is more like it was prior to European settlement and interference!

IMAGINE what a unique place it could be, like one huge national park managed on behalf of all of us by the traditional owners.

We loved the Kimberley’s, it’s a magnificent place despite what we have done to it over the last 150 years, let’s hope it has a sustainable future.’

Battle for the Fitzroy River: Kimberley divided over bid to harvest precious resource

ABC Kimberley By Claire Moodie


Geike Gorge

PHOTO: The Fitzroy River runs about 700 kilometres across the Kimberley region of Western Australia. (Supplied: Hugh Brown)

RELATED STORY: Fitzroy River National Park stakeholders optimistic about finding balance

RELATED STORY: Fitzroy River National Park plan concerns cattle industry

RELATED STORY: Kimberley development stifled by water-licensing rules, Gina Rinehart says

RELATED STORY: Kimberley traditional owners call for water ban

It is being pitched as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to create hundreds of jobs in Western Australia’s far north.

Key points:

  • Heavily redacted emails obtained under Freedom of Information shed light on tense negotiations about the future of the Kimberley’s Fitzroy River
  • Media was not permitted to attend a meeting of stakeholders held in August
  • Proponents of a plan to harvest water from the river say it is a once in a lifetime opportunity

Proponents say tapping into the mighty Fitzroy River for irrigation could “supercharge” the region’s cattle industry, using water that would otherwise run “uselessly” into the ocean.

But, as negotiations ramp up between those who want to harvest water and those who want to protect the heritage-listed river, there is growing concern about the consultation process.

A recent complaint to the WA Government, obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information (FOI), reveals claims of “aggression” and “intimidation” at the latest meeting of stakeholders.

Held in Fitzroy Crossing in August, the gathering of more than 60 stakeholders was the first time that many Aboriginal traditional owners, who live along the river, had met in the same room with the cattle industry to try to find some common ground.

Cattle shown where to drink at Liveringa

PHOTO: The Fitzroy catchment spans 94,000 square kilometres and 95 per cent of it is covered by pastoral leases. (ABC News: Ginny Stein)

‘Chatham House Rule’

The meeting was held behind closed doors, with stakeholders agreeing to a variation of the “Chatham House ruleto keep the discussions off-limits to the media.

But, the heavily redacted emails released under FOI have cast some light on the nature of the confidential negotiations.

In a joint email to the State Government, environmental groups, Pew Charitable Trusts and Environs Kimberley, criticised an unsuccessful push to remove their representatives from the meeting as an attempt to “intimidate and stifle debate” on the future of the river.

“We have not been subject to the level of aggression and disrespect displayed in this meeting in our combined 30 years of dealing with mining, agricultural and other development proposals in WA,” the groups said.

Criticism of another stakeholder at the Fitzroy meeting, they claimed, had been “disrespectfully and unnecessarily aggressively delivered and sustained for an uncomfortable and intimidating length of time”.

“This unacceptable behaviour was not controlled or managed in any way by the WA Government departmental officers nor consultants, despite this being a taxpayer-funded meeting,” the email said.

No minutes from meeting

The claims are difficult to verify.

Proposed Fitzroy River National Park

PHOTO: The water allocation plan for the Fitzroy is part of broader discussions about creating a new national park in the area. (Supplied: WA Labor)

Media were not allowed into the meeting and were asked to move away from the public area outside the conference room at the Fitzroy River Lodge.

Asked in the days following the meeting if there was any record of the proceedings, a Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) spokesperson said that no formal minutes had been taken.

It has since been revealed, through the FOI emails, that department staff themselves were also asked to leave the meeting.

In a response to the complaint by Pew and Environs Kimberley, the Department acknowledged the forum had been “challenging at times” with some “intense conversations” but that it had “respected the wishes of all for a stakeholder-led process.”

It said it could not comment on the push to remove conservation groups from the meeting or the decision to uphold “Chatham House rules”.

“These issues were raised, and we were advised agreed to, during the period when State Government and others [redacted] were asked to leave the room.”

‘One river for all of us’

The only public record of what happened at the Fitzroy Crossing meeting is a communique, reporting “broad agreement” by the stakeholders on a list of principles.

The document entitled “One River for All of Us, Black and White” describes the two days of discussions as “wide-ranging and constructive” and said that the forum had agreed that “groundwater and surface water extraction … may be considered”.

AUDIO: Communique released on future of Fitzroy River (Breakfast)

Pew and Environs Kimberley have distanced themselves from the communique:

“At no time did we understand that we were agreeing to principles for development proposals,” their joint email said.

“Our position remains that there is a very strong case for protecting the river

The Fitzroy is part of our national heritage and is the life-blood for thousands of traditional owners … “

In its response, DPIRD said it believed the communique was a genuine reflection of the discussions among stakeholders.


«Page 1 of  2»

The WA Government hopes to release a draft water plan for the Fitzroy River early next year

The ABC knows of only two proposals.

Go Go station has had a long-standing proposal to take 50 gigalitres from the Fitzroy catchment to irrigate fodder crops.

*And billionaire, GINA RINEHART’s company, HANCOCK AGRICULTURE has three cattle stations in the Kimberley and reported ambitions to harvest 325 gigalitres of water.*

*The company outlined a proposal to the Director General of DPIRD earlier this year whereby land from its Fossil Downs station could be incorporated into a new Fitzroy River national park in exchange for access to water.

*The ABC has made numerous requests to Hancock Agriculture for comment but it has declined or not responded.

Backing up the case for large-scale irrigation is a CSIRO report which found 1,700 gigalitres of water could be taken from the Fitzroy catchment annually to support 160,000 ha of crops.

The CSIRO calculated the mean annual discharge into the ocean at about 6,600 gigalitres.

*But, the recent negotiations between the stakeholders have been taking place against a backdrop of parched river beds.

An untypically dry wet season has been blamed for the deaths of more than 40 endangered Sawfish in December.

An aerial of a dried out river bed

PHOTO: An extremely dry wet season has left dry conditions in much of the Fitzroy catchment. (ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)

‘Let it be free’

*Chantelle Murray, an indigenous ranger from Gooniyandi, one of a number of groups with native title rights across the massive Fitzroy catchment, has already made up her mind on the prospect of water being harvested for agriculture.

*“The water should be flowing free as it has always been,” Ms Murray said.

“Let it be free … don’t interrupt with nature.

“Our small billabongs will be dried up and our way of living will be changed.

“Twenty years from now, we’ll have our grandkids and great grandkids asking:

“Why did this happen?”

portrait shot of Chantelle Murray smiling at camera, in front of bushland

PHOTO: Gooniyandi woman Chantelle Murray believes the Fitzroy River should left to run free. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)

‘There’s nothing there’

*Mervyn Street, a Gooniyandi artist, teacher and former drover also has serious concerns about the negotiations over the future of the river.

Born under a boomerang tree on Louisa Downs station in the 1940s, Mr Street said he had never seen the rivers and creeks on his traditional country so dry.

“I went all the way around the main fishing holes and they’re all filled with sand … here’s nothing there,” he said.

*“Some people say that wasted water is running into the sea but what’s going to happen when, like this time, there’s no rain, no water in the river?”

Portrait shot of Mervyn Street

PHOTO: Gooniyandi artist, Mervyn Street, says he’s worried about the health of the Fitzroy River. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)

*Mr Street is supporting a rally to be held in the coming weeks in Fitzroy Crossing which he said would give a voice to local people, who had not been involved in the consultation process.

“We don’t want to see agriculture get hurt and the traditional owners get hurt — we can make things right,” he said.

“But we got to put all these things on the one table, sit down and work together.”

A banner with writing on it that says stop the land and water grab

PHOTO: Banners are being painted ahead of a rally in Fitzroy Crossing. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)

Mixed views on the river talks

The Fitzroy and its tributary, the Margaret River, run through the Gooniyandi’s vast native title areas.

As in neighbouring Bunuba country, views on taking water from the river are complex and diverse.

*Prominent Bunuba leader, June Oscar, said the plans by pastoralists for the river were of “huge concern to her people and to the many groups that are connected to the Fitzroy River”.

June Oscar explaining something, with her arms and hands stretched out

PHOTO: June Oscar says the Fitzroy River talks are of huge concern to her people. (Supplied: Charlotte Dickie of the Kimberley Land Council)

Ms Oscar, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, told the ABC during a visit to the region to address an indigenous women’s ranger forum, that Aboriginal cultural knowledge must be considered.

“We lived in the Kimberley all our lives, we know that the river doesn’t flood every year,” she said.

“We know that the whole ecology and biodiversity that is dependent on the water flows is so important.

*“It’s not just the water that flows in the river and sits in the river — it’s around the replenishing of the aquifers and the feeding of the ecology out on the floodplains.”

Claims process ‘rushed’

Most of the Aboriginal groups along the river have been represented by an umbrella group, the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council.

*Since the Fitzroy meeting, the council’s chair, Dr Anne Poelina, has also been outspoken about her concerns about the process.

*“I and the council members are actually quite worried about the rate and the speed of which the development is being proposed,” Dr Poelina said at a recent forum in Broome.

Anne Poelina and Alistair Shields sitting together, shaking hands, on a veranda

PHOTO: Dr Anne Poelina of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council and Alistair Shields, the co-chairs of the Fitzroy Crossing stakeholders meeting. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)

“There’s very little resources that the council has, to be able to generate its own research, to be able to peer review some of the processes that are going on with the river.

*“They [the elders] are also quite concerned that there doesn’t seem to be the opportunity to get out to community to talk to the people who live on the land who are going to be most impacted by this development.”

A boab tree in front of red rocks

PHOTO: The Fitzroy River catchment spans about 94,000 square kilometres and about 40 cattle stations (Supplied: Hugh Brown)

Minister defends negotiations

The Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, has defended the consultation process which she said had been running since early 2018.

Ms MacTiernan also rejected the complaint by the two conservation groups, Pew Trusts and Environs Kimberley.

“If you are expecting everyone in these groups to come together and sing Kumbaya and that’s somehow how we are going to resolve this, it’s not going to happen,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“We were asked by the Martuwarra Council, who represents the traditional owners, and by the pastoralists’ group to enable them to conduct the meeting.

“Not for it to be conducted by departmental or ministerial people … for them to determine the meeting and set the ground rules.

“It’s not going to be without controversy, and of course it’s not going to be without some heated discussion.

“But this whole process is really designed to see where we can establish some common ground.

“At the end of the day, they decided that they wanted this forum and they ended up issuing a joint communique and quite frankly I think that’s something that should be celebrated.”

Ms MacTiernan said the consultation was already extensive and that the State Government had provided resources to all of the Aboriginal groups involved.

A man fishing on a bridge on the Fitzroy River, surrounded by trees.

PHOTO: There are about 50 Indigenous communities in the Fitzroy catchment that have recognised native title and cultural heritage rights. (ABC News: Vanessa Mills)

CEO of the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association, Emma White, said the consultation process was important because it aimed to set out not only what amounts of surface and ground water from the catchment may be available for sustainable economic development but also what needed to be safeguarded for environmental and cultural flows.

Ms White said the participants at the Fitzroy Forum had agreed to observe “Chatham House rules” in conducting the meeting and provide no media comment.

But she added in a statement:

“This does not prevent participants in the forum discussing issues relating to the meeting or the election commitments with relevant Government agencies nor amongst their own organisations/relevant groups.

“The association looks forward to continuing to work constructively and collaboratively with all stakeholders in relation to the implementation of the Fitzroy Valley election commitments and to build on the shared sentiment from the August Fitzroy forum of “One river for All of Us, Black and White.”

Geike Gorge





Key Points …

-our green eastern coast farmers reeling from the worst drought they have faced

-some areas of NSW mid north coats only received 20% of annual rainfall

-farmers and family members taking on work off the farm or selling stock to survive!

The drought is now so severe it is biting in even the greenest corners of the country


A wide dry river bed running through open paddocks on a flood plain on Tony Saul's property

PHOTO: A dry river bed on Tony Saul’s property (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

RELATED STORY: ‘Virtually a lunar landscape’: No rain for 70 days in parts of Qld during record-breaking dry spell

RELATED STORY: State of the drought: Dams are empty and NSW is drowning in dust

RELATED STORY: ‘Will it ever rain again?’: More Queensland towns reeling in worst drought on record

Farmers along Australia’s normally green eastern coast are reeling from the worst drought they have ever seen and face a tough summer if it doesn’t rain in the next few months.

Key points:

  • Even the greenest parts of the east coast are now feeling the effects of the drought
  • Some areas of the NSW mid-north coast have only received 20 per cent of their annual rainfall
  • Farmers have taken on work off the farm or are selling stock to make ends meet

The NSW mid-north coast is usually a lush part of the country, with reliable rain and regular flooding.

But the region has been in drought for two years now and farmers say it is starting to bite.

“We normally get 40 inches of rain [a year] and I think we are up to around 8 inches,” fourth-generation beef farmer Tony Saul told 7.30.

“And that might be all we’re going to get for the year.”

He is standing in a dry river bed that stretches out cracked for hundreds of metres through his property near Kempsey.

It’s usually full of water where his cattle drink.

“This is the longest and the driest it’s been since I can remember and I’ve been here for my whole life,” Mr Saul said.

“We’ve had dry periods — you know, it might be dry for three or four months.

“But it’s been dry for 12 months here and the big concern is we’ve just been through our wet period of the calendar year.”

‘You start to give up hope’

MCU of Tony Saul looking at camera and standing in front of a half-full dam

PHOTO: Beef farmer Tony Saul is struggling with the drought. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

To help make ends meet, all five members of the Saul family have taken on extra jobs outside the farm.

“We’ve all still got loans to pay and the bank needs their money,” Mr Saul said.

“So, we’ve got to have an income coming in.”

He has been doing extra work driving cattle trucks, but he also has to keep the farm ticking over.

Which makes for long days.

“Usually starting around 6 o’clock (in the morning),” he said.

“I could be not getting home until 1 o’clock in the morning.

“I’ve done a few nights when I haven’t finished till 4 o’clock, just trying to get me jobs done.

“Other people rely on you.”

Cameron Saul rests on one knee on top of a feeder as stockfeed is being loaded into the feeder

PHOTO: Cameron Saul watches stockfeed they have had to buy being loaded into a feeder. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

But that all takes its toll on more than just the family’s finances.

“It affects your mental thinking. You start to give up hope,” Mr Saul said.

“The long hours of working to bring other income in takes a toll on your family life. You don’t seem to get home to see your children.

“I suppose we never fight with our wife because we never seem them.”

Mr Saul’s son Cameron told 7.30: “There’s been times when I’ve come home and Dad’s in tears … just knowing that he can’t do anything about it, just keep battling along.”

If it doesn’t rain in the next few weeks, Mr Saul faces the prospect of selling some of his cattle.

“You just pray and wish and hopefully it will come,” Mr Saul said.

“One day closer, every day.”

‘It’s desperate’

Aerial of an empty dam and dead tree in a brown, open paddock on the Clarke's property near Kempsey

PHOTO: An empty dam on the Clarke’s property near Kempsey. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

Fifth-generation dairy farmer Donna Clarke and her husband, Peter, are in the same position.

“It’s desperate. We’ve never seen this before,” she told 7.30.

For the first time the Clarkes can remember, the creek that runs through their property is bone dry.

Normally the water would be around a metre deep, now the cattle struggle to drink from the last remaining puddle.

“This is their only water source in this paddock. That’s all they got now,” Ms Clarke said.

The lack of water has slashed the couple’s income.

MCU of Donna Clarke in the milking shed with her left arm raised and resting on some machinery

PHOTO: Donna Clarke says the drought has made it hard to pay the bills. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

“There’s no profit,” Ms Clarke said.

“Whatever is sold goes straight to paying bills.”

From previously clearing $13,000 a month, the Clarkes’ monthly income from milk is now down to $1,000.

“The Country Energy bill, when it comes, will be about $6,000, and I just don’t know how we’re going to pay that one,” Ms Clarke said.

They have already sold most of their cattle.

Their two sons want to work on the farm but there is no money to pay them, so they have both found work elsewhere.

Their parents hope that will be temporary.

“They keep us going, they keep us sane,” Ms Clarke said.

And one day they may take over the farm.

“You try and plug along for a future for them, somehow. Try and hang in for them,” Mr Clarke said.

Close up of Peter Clarke standing in the dairy farmer wearing a battered cap and blue-grey flannel shirt, looking off camera

PHOTO: Peter Clarke wants to be able to hand his farm over to his children. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)





WE don’t have the water! We keep sayin’ ..

With some rivers 17 gigalitres of inflows in the past year compared to an annual average of 1000 gigalitres.

Without significant rain, the first towns to lose water supply will be Dubbo, Cobar, Nyngan and Narromine in central NSW, with the Macquarie River forecast to run dry by November.

Read more!

The towns that are at risk of running out of water

banks drought scheme

The drought crisis crippling parts of the eastern seaboard will come to a head within just a few weeks. Photo: AAP

Cait Kelly

Cait Kelly Reporter


The drought crisis crippling parts of the eastern seaboard may come to a head within weeks as several regional centres are set to completely run out of water within two months.

Parts of regional NSW could run out of water as early as November, with data showing the worst-case scenario for the state if there’s no rain or government intervention.

The projections from NSW’s river operator and bulk water supplier, WaterNSW, show without significant rain, the first towns to lose water supply will be Dubbo, Cobar, Nyngan and Narromine in central NSW, with the Macquarie River forecast to run dry by November.

Normally, the Macquarie River experiences an average inflow of 1448 gigalitres a year, but in the past two years has seen just 97 gigalitres enter the river system, the data, seen by AAP shows.

Meanwhile, the Queensland state government has announced drastic measures to combat the falling water levels and keep some of its regional towns alive.

The NSW situation has been described as “critical” by state Water Minister Melinda Pavey, with the government insisting it’s doing everything it can to make sure the state gets through the devastating drought.

*Australia’s longest river – the Murray – has been severely affected with 901 gigalitres of water entering the system in the past 12 months, compared with its annual average of 5000 gigalitres.

*The data shows that Menindee Lakes, which is a source of flows for the lower Darling and is a vital fish nursery, received just six gigalitres of water in the past year.

Its annual inflow average is 1387 gigalitres.

The lakes sit within the town of Menindee, which experienced mass fish deaths along the Darling River last summer.

Residents have questioned the drainage of the lakes twice in 2017 with some suggesting the fish carnage wouldn’t have happened if the lakes were full.

The WaterNSW data shows the lakes received 2100 gigalitres of water in 2016-17 followed by just 52 gigalitres of water in 2017-18.

*Under the worst-case scenario, the Lachlan River, which runs through the state’s central west, is projected to run dry by March 2020 leaving the towns of Forbes, Cowra and Parkes without water supply.

The river is the fourth-longest in Australia and annually receives an average of 1212 gigalitres of water, but in the last year recorded inflows of just 107 gigalitres.

summer promises more dry weather and fires
Cattle at a property in Quilpie, in south-west Queensland in late August. Photo: AAP

The state’s north-west, including the small towns of Manilla and Boggabri, could also run out of water by the same date if the upper Namoi River doesn’t receive any rainfall.

A group of rivers that straddle the NSW and Queensland border and supply water to the towns of Boggabilla, Ashford and Goondiwindi, received just 17 gigalitres of inflows in the past year compared to an annual average of 1000 gigalitres.

WaterNSW also predicted the Border rivers will run dry by September 2020 without government intervention and rain.

Water is projected to stop flowing from taps in the northern NSW town of Inverell in March 2021 where the Gwydir River, which usually receives 1141 gigalitres of rain a year, will dry up after just 19 gigalitres entered the system last year.

The data predicts that most of Sydney’s water supply will remain flowing until at least October 2021 when, under the worst-case scenario, the upper Nepean River will run dry.

Australia’s largest urban water-supply dam – Warragamba Dam – is projected to stop flowing by January 2022, according to the data.

Warragamba Dam received 105 gigalitres of water in the last year, compared with its annual average of 1069 gigalitres.

Outlooks for spring and December again point to above-average temperatures.

With the exception of only parts of Western Australia and the west coast of Tasmania, the outlook for rainfall across the country is below average.

Relief for southern Queensland

With less rainfall and high temperatures, it means some governments are resorting to drastic measures to keep towns hydrated.

Over the weekend Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that the Queensland government would provide $800,000 a month to truck in water to drought-stricken Stanthorpe, about 220 kilometres south-west of Brisbane.

Between 30 and 40 trucks will cart the water into the town every day.

A further $2.4 million will be spent on two one-megalitre tanks in Stanthorpe to hold supplies that will be trucked in when the dwindling local dams run out.

The drastic measure will ensure residents of the town will have a secure drinking water supply until 2020.

“With bushfires following the prolonged drought, Stanthorpe will not be left to battle through this alone,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

-with AAP