Sydney’s dam levels are falling so quickly the city would need the equivalent of a metre of rain and a major deluge to break the dry spell.
Details of the state of Sydney’s catchments were circulated to government agencies this month as NSW braces for increasing stress on water supplies, particularly across the northern Murray-Darling Basin.
“It will take approximately 1000 millimetres of rain to fall over the course of a year in order to break the current drought in Greater Sydney, including an intense rain event of 200 millimetres over 1-2 days,” the government document states. “The annual average is 850 millimetres.”
Sydney’s dams are 48 per cent full, down more than 10 billion litres over the past week. The weekly drop of 0.4 percentage points would have been more without the 250 million litres being produced daily by the city’s desalination plant.
“Greater Sydney is in drought and dam levels are dropping faster than they have in decades,” a spokeswoman for Sydney Water said.
“This … is around 50 per cent greater than the Millennium Drought,” she said, adding that storage levels had sunk from 90 per cent to below half full in about two years.
Governments have been scrambling to respond to a sharp reduction of rainfall even as evaporation rates have increased with record temperatures.
In NSW during the first nine months of 2019, rainfall has been half the average while daytime and mean temperatures are running at the hottest on record.
“The Bureau of Meteorology’s climate forecast indicates no foreseeable signs of reprieve from current drought conditions, with warm and dry weather predicted,” the Sydney Water spokeswoman said, citing bureau outlooks.
“Based on these forecasts, the drought is therefore unlikely to break within the next year.”
That reduction “made a big difference to Sydney’s water security”, the spokeswoman said.
NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said Sydney’s restrictions were already “equivalent to the level 2 water restrictions we experienced during the Millennium Drought. The trigger point for level 2 water restrictions [this time] is 40 per cent capacity for the Sydney catchment.”
Labor’s water spokesman Clayton Barr said “there is a growing concern across parts of the Sydney water network, and the state more widely, about how water is being handled and preserved”.
Mr Barr said he recently met community groups at Cataract Dam, the largest dam in the Macarthur Region, who were worried that levels had dropped from 90 per cent to under 30 per cent in just two years.
Who would have thought: the drought is driving people from the regions to the cities, the opposite of the federal government’s ‘migrants to the bush’ policy. From The SMH:
Leading regional economist, Terry Rawnsley, has warned fears about water could discourage Sydney residents from moving to regional towns at the same time as the economic effects of the drought force workers to depart country areas in search of opportunities…
“You’ve had political focus on getting more people into the regions but if people are thinking about moving to a regional town and they read the place is about to run out of water that might put questions in their mind”…
“People are drifting away from towns because the drought has weakened the economy but those who want to move away from Sydney are turned off because water is such a fundamental requirement”…
The water supply of some of the state’s biggest towns has been hit by drought including Armidale, Tamworth, Orange and Dubbo…
Armidale Regional Council says on present usage, water supply from the Malpas Dam will run out in November next year – dubbed “day-zero”.
Australia’s population is growing by around 400,000 people a year – roughly a Canberra. And this is projected to continue indefinitely:
Accordingly, Australia’s population is projected to increase by 17.5 million people over the next 48 years, driven entirely by net overseas migration (NOM):
Not surprisingly, Australia’s per capita water supply is projected to plunge – a situation that will worsen as Australia’s population balloons:
Remember, regional towns like Armidale, Tamworth, Orange and Dubbo are located far away from the ocean, meaning that water desalination is not available. This means that residents will be forced to locate in the coastal cities where desalination is available (albeit very expensive).
Water supply is clearly a major problem in the era of climate change. Flooding the world’s driest continent with tens-of-millions of additional people is policy lunacy.
CAAN: Macarthur where much of the housing development is taking place served by the Cataract Dam … now so low … its water supply is considered not suitable to drink!
Cataract Dam is so low its water supply is considered not suitable to drink. Picture: Simon Bennett; September 9 2019
Dwindling water supplies in towns such as Armidale and Tamworth threatens to sap population growth in regional NSW and add to Sydney’s congestion as the drought takes a deepening toll on the economy.
Leading regional economist, Terry Rawnsley, has warned fears about water could discourage Sydney residents from moving to regional towns at the same time as the economic effects of the drought force workers to depart country areas in search of opportunities.
“You’ve had political focus on getting more people into the regions but if people are thinking about moving to a regional town and they read the place is about to run out of water that might put questions in their mind,” said Rawnsley who authors the annual Economic Performance of Cities and Regions Reportpublished by SGS Economics and Planning.
“People are drifting away from towns because the drought has weakened the economy but those who want to move away from Sydney are turned off because water is such a fundamental requirement.”
The Morrison government has been ramping up efforts to push more migrants into the regions as population pressures increase congestion in Sydney and Melbourne, while regional areas confront skill shortages.
The measures, which are designed to stimulate struggling towns, are a key part of the Coalition’s population policy, which will see refugees, skilled migrants and students diverted away from sprawling outer suburbs towards regional centres.
New figures show 6350 regional visas have been granted in the past year, a 124 per cent increase on 2017-18.
In Victoria the number of visas granted rose by 65 per cent compared to 2018. In NSWthe number grew by 78 per cent, according to the Department of Home Affairs.
The NSW budget in June warned drought conditions would weigh heavily on the rural sector and was a source of “uncertainty” for the economy.
The water supply of some the state’s biggest towns has been hit by drought including Armidale, Tamworth, Orange and Dubbo. The Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, warned last week that large NSW towns would struggle to survive if the drought continues for another three years.
Armidale Regional Council says on present usage, water supply from the Malpas Dam will run out in November next year – dubbed “day-zero”. Armidale’s residents have been asked to reduce their water consumption to 160 litres per person per day to conserve supplies and that will fall to 50 litres when only 60 days of water supply remain.
“We realise that if it does get down to those really low levels people will drift away,” said Armidale mayor, Simon Murray. “That’s why we are working so hard with the community and local businesses so we can use our water efficiently – together we’ll get through this.”
In Tamworth the main water source, Chaffey Dam, has fallen to 18.7 per cent of capacity and the town is on level five water restrictions. Earlier this month Dubbo Regional Council began carting drinking water to residents in Euchareena, a village about 300 kilometres north west of Sydney.
James McTavish, the NSW regional town water supply coordinator, said negative publicity about the drought could influence whether people choose to move to regional areas.
“I’m sure there are people now who are concerned about moving to the bush, regardless of whether that’s inland or on the coast, because of the narrative around water,” he said.
“But in every community we are working hard to secure more water.”
Mr McTavish said he is working on water security in about 85 towns across NSW. “In all those places there is a risk they will be in critical water shortage in the next 12 months,” he said.
The Morrison government’s efforts to encourage migrants to settle outside the big cities ares are expected to intensify as the new regional migration visa comes into effect. Under the conditions of the visas, migrants must remain in their designated regional area for three years before being able to apply for permanent residency. The visas will be run through businesses, industry groups and local councils.
A Senate inquiry heard seven local councils in Victoria, South Australia, NSW, Western Australia and Queensland have been granted sponsorship powers.
Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese said the federal government needs to adopt measures that make a practical difference on the ground for struggling farmers.
“What we need at the moment is the immediate concerns addressed, where we have farmers literally walking off their properties. Where we have real issues confronting farmers in terms of mental health.”
Water levels are decreasing across the state, including at Warragamba Dam. Picture: Toby Zerna
After weeks of speculation about a new dam to secure the long-term survival of country towns and farmers, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal a new reservoir will be built at Dungowan, near Tamworth…
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said dams weren’t built overnight but “we’re working as quickly as possible”…
The new Dungowan Dam above Tamworth will be worth $480 million and will secure long-term water supply for 62,000 district residents and farms in the Peel Valley, which is expected to run out of water by June without significant rainfall or intervention.
The new Dungowan Dam will be more than three-and-a-half times the size of the existing dam, which will be knocked down once the replacement is built downstream. It will be the first new dam in NSW since Split Rock dam was built near Tamworth in 1987.
Obviously, it may take several years to build the dam and several more years to fill it (assuming above average rainfall). There’s also the problem of Tamworth’s growing population.
Tamworth’s authorities are determined to lift the region’s population from 62,000 currently to over 100,000 as quickly as possible:
The local government area grew by just under 1 per cent from 2017 to 2018, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows. Tamworth Regional Council has an ambitious plan to shave at least three decades off that.
“We need to increase the growth rate to a bit over 2 per cent,” acting mayor Phil Betts said. “It is an ambitious target but it’s possible…”.
While water is a major concern for the city presently, the mayor said a growing city would demand government investment in a greater security.
“I would argue we have got no chance of increasing our water security without having population growth,” [Mayor Col Murray] said.
“That’ll force it to happen.
“I have absolutely got no concerns that there’ll be water for the future, providing we have got the plan and got the population growth to strengthen it.”
You cannot make this stuff up. Tamworth already has major concerns with water security – hence the severe water restrictions in place. But somehow we are not to worry about the extra demand that would come from 40,000 (60%) more people, especially in light of climate change, which is expected to lower rainfall and increase evaporation?
Remember, Tamworth is located far away from the ocean, meaning that water desalination is not available.
Water scarcity remains the elephant in the room of the population debate, and the key issue that ‘Big Australia’ boosters deliberately ignore, including Tamworth Mayor Col Murray.
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.
… after all we can’t have anyone ask the difficult
questions, can we?
–do you believe the economy can grow forever?
–do you believe we should keep growing our population at more than double the normal rate? … from 70,000 immigrants p.a. to some 400,000 through both permanent and temporary migration by manipulating the Visa System? (160,000 permanent migrants reduced from 190,000 p.a. 2 years ago)
–do you believe it is okay for foreigners and foreign corporations to buy Australia’s domestic housing?
–do you believe it is okay for Temporary Visa Holders to gain a ‘Permanent Resident Visa’ when they buy our domestic housing? And gain the benefit of Medicare?
-do you believe it is okay for we, Australians, to have to put up with more chronic infrastructure bottlenecks, rampant wage theft, the HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CRISIS, falling living standards? Does it look like a joint Big End of Town/Government construct?
–do you believe it is okay for the Scomo Govt alleging it has cut immigration while the Temporary Visa System has become the new Growth Industry? With the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overrun by bogus applications for asylum from migrants/visa holders that arrived by plane?
–do you believe it is okay that it appears Visa Holders are not being vetted? Do we know who is arriving, and staying in Australia?
–do you believe it is okay the number of bridging visas on issue has doubled since the Coalition Government in 2013 to more than 200,000 as at June 2019?
–do you believe it is okay that migrants temporarily settling in regional areas and smaller capital cities purely to get the required number of points for permanent residency before moving to Sydney and Melbourne?
–do you believe it is okay that 25 years ago it might have been tough to survive on Newstart but now it is impossible? Including a qualified woman struggling to find work and get by on the Newstart Allowance
–do you believe it is okay that the Scomo Government cannot increase Newstart to enable a former Australian Taxpayer to gain employment and maintain dignity?
–do you believe it is okay that developers can apply directly to the NSW Government to inflate approval for a 450 dwelling development to one of 1900 dwellings in multiple mid and high-rise?
a City Planning Panel?
you believe it is okay that any Sydney or NSW Community can lose open space,
parklands, any undeveloped patch of land for a huge development that can be
marketed 100% to overseas buyers?
–do you believe it is okay that a mere token of 5 or 10% can be allocated for local Key Workers?
–do you believe it is okay that Australians are being sidelined to benefit the developer lobby? The Big End of Town? And their client base, the foreign buyer as our suburbs and towns are rezoned for higher density for their benefit?
–do you believe it is okay for our governments to persist with high immigration and Visa Manipulation when we do not have the water to quench the thirst of more people?
–do you believe that it is okay for Australian Constituents to have to foot the bill for prohibitively expensive DESALINATION PLANTS to benefit others?
AND there are many more questions like these!
Australia Talks can help you understand how you compare to other Australians — here’s how
In July, the ABC asked more than 54,000 people all over the country to share their thoughts and feelings on almost 500 individual questions.
The resulting Australia Talks National Survey provides an unprecedented insight into people’s everyday lives:
Do you know your neighbours by name?
Do you often struggle to make ends meet?
Does looking at social media make you feel worse about yourself?
Do you feel safe walking alone at night?
As well as into how Australians are feeling:
How often do you feel lonely? And loved?
How’s your mental health?
What would make you happier?
And what they’re thinking:
Has political correctness gone too far?
Is it OK to smack your kids?
Will young Australians today be better or worse off than their parents?
And now it’s time for you to get involved. Our Australia Talks interactive tool allows you to answer a sample of the survey questions and then delivers immediate, personalised results that help you understand how your responses compare with other Australians — and what they say about you.
Over the next six weeks, the ABC will use the Australia Talks National Survey data to start conversations about the issues that matter to us as a nation, and help you understand the mind and mood of the country.
That will culminate in a live TV show on November 18, which will use the National Survey data to paint a sweeping portrait of Australia in 2019.
Who made Australia Talks?
Australia Talks is an ABC project, created in collaboration with data scientists and social scientists at Vox Pop Labs — the creators of Vote Compass. A panel of local academics also helped guide its creation, and the University of Melbourne is an academic partner.
When you use Australia Talks, you will answer a series of questions about your behaviour, your feelings and your beliefs.
Those same questions were asked in the Australia Talks National Survey, which was fielded between July 20 and July 29, 2019 and had a total of 54,970 respondents.
The results of that survey have been weighted by sex, age, education, language, geography and vote choice in the 2019 election to create a nationally representative sample of the Australian population.
This means that when you answer those same questions, Australia Talks can show you how your views fit into the wider picture of Australian experience and opinion that the survey has helped develop.
How did the ABC decide what questions to ask?
To develop the Australia Talks National Survey, the ABC and Vox Pop Labs conducted a number of ‘crowdsourcing’ surveys that asked thousands of Australians from all walks of life open-ended questions designed to uncover the realities of their everyday lives, their thoughts about the most pressing issues in Australia and their fears and hopes about the future.
These questions included:
What are the most pressing concerns that you and your family face today?
What aspects of life in Australia do you think are getting better and getting worse?
How are your values and priorities different from what’s being talked about in the news?
The answers people gave were surprising, personal and sometimes confronting.
“I’m scared … scared of my wife dying … of me dying … of landing in a nursing home and not having the freedom to decide when I die.”
They also revealed the wide range of concerns facing Australians today, touching on everything from the difficulty of making ends meet financially to religious discrimination to the challenges of spending more than three hours commuting to and from work every day.
“I feel the distance between the regions and the cities is becoming a real issue. Country towns are literally running out of water.”
“Being able to save money for emergencies, let alone day-to-day expenses.”
“I believe that freedom of speech, and freedom of religious expression should be one of our highest priorities. I particularly believe that our Australian Christian heritage is being seriously undermined by lack of tolerance.”
“As a person of colour, and a person of Muslim heritage, the racism really weighs on you. It makes me wonder: Is this person one of the people who just want me to ‘be disappeared’?”
“Although Australians seem to believe that climate change is serious, when it comes to doing something about it there is little interest. This is mirrored by our politicians and most of our media.”
“I think the breakdown of the family unit is a big issue ignored. I think children raised in strong stable homes is key to a successful society. Divorce takes priority over children and seems to just be the ‘done’ thing, ignoring the negative impacts on kids.”
“The ability to express yourself without being howled down for your views.”
These are just a small selection from thousands of responses. We heard from people in regional areas, Australians from diverse backgrounds, and even people who felt disconnected from and angry at the ABC.
“I am feeling increasingly isolated from ABC.”
In addition to these initial open-ended surveys, the ABC conducted interviews with more than 60 Australian community leaders, young people, academics and researchers to help uncover the issues that are important and of interest to Australians today.
“I feel like the federal election showed that media and politics is become really weighed down in broad and overarching philosophies, which are something to aspire to,” one local councillor from north Queensland told us.
“But we’re forgetting to talk about the everyday fears and concerns of people.”
From there, Vox Pop Labs, a group of Australian academics and ABC staff analysed the themes that emerged from that initial research, and used those to help develop the questions asked in the Australia Talks National Survey — and ultimately the small selection of questions included in the Australia Talks tool.
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.
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.
‘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
It is being pitched as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to create hundreds of jobs in Western Australia’s far north.
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.
The meeting was held behind closed doors, with stakeholders agreeing to a variation of the “Chatham House rule” to 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 havenot 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.
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”.
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.
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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.
*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:
“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.”
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.”
Coal mining under Sydney’s drinking water catchment is drying up sensitive swamps and creeks, and draining groundwater, with more damage likely if a planned expansion allowing mining until 2048 wins approval.
South32’s Dendrobium coking coal mine beneath the Metropolitan Special Area is seeking approval to extend operations within its mining lease.
Documents obtained under freedom of information, however, show WaterNSW has raised concerns “tolerable” water losses may have been exceeded.
South32’s underground coal mine in Sydney’s catchment
Location of Dendrobium’s existing and proposed mining under swamps and creeks
The Herald visited the area with WaterNSW guides this week and found Swamp 1B near one of the mine’s longwalls had all but dried out, with grasses and shrubs dying off and nearby trees encroaching on the formerly wet region.
“We should be walking through ‘squelch’ now,” said Duncan Rayner, a principal engineer at the University of NSW’s Water Research Laboratory.
“When this swamp was not impacted, you would have had water at the surface.”
Swamps in the catchment serve as a giant sponge, absorbing rain during falls and releasing water during dry times. As the endangered ecological communities dry out they allow greater erosion and can increase the fire risk, Mr Rayner said.
Wongawilli Creek tributary 21 revealed deep cracks in the dry stream bed. WaterNSW believes the cracks were worsened by subsidence resulting from coal extraction about 400 metres below.
“These are the most aggressive longwalls in any of the catchments,” said Peter Turner, mining projects science officer with the National Parks Association. “The mining here’s quite diabolical [and] more damaging than other mines.”
Dendrobium’s longwalls reach as long as 2 kilometres, run more than 300 metres wide and as much as 4.5 metres high, he says.
“Not allowing mining that could cause the drainage zone to reach the surface, with seam to surface connected fractures, should be a fundamental catchment protection principle and policy,” Dr Turner said.
“The damage, degradation and water loss would be very much less than is so disturbingly obvious now.”
Rapid water loss can occur when ‘shear planes’ connect to the drainage zone. Shear planes are two layers of rock moving against each other as subsidence occurs. This movement increases the ability of water to move between rock layers. Shear planes can carry water for several hundred metres.
SOURCE: Peter Turner, National Parks Association
Attention on the damage from mining in the catchment has increased along with the drought, as Sydney’s catchments drop below 50 per cent full and residents get used to first-stage water restrictions.
Cordeaux and Avon dams, the two main storages closed to the Dendrobium mine were at 41.5 and 48.3 per cent full as of Wednesday, according to WaterNSW.
A spokesman for South32 said mineable reserves will be depleted by 2024, and that the miner had met all its performance measures. Its proposed extension would have a net economic benefit of $2.8 billion for the state, sustained about 400 jobs and ensure the supply of the metallurgical coal to customers at home and aboard until 2048.
“We take our environmental responsibilities seriously and understand the sensitivities of working within the Metropolitan Special Area, where the mine is located,” he said.
“The supporting [Environmental impact study] is informed by years of expert research into the environmental, social and economic aspects of the project and has been developed through extensive consultation with our stakeholders,” the spokesman said.
Rob Stokes, the Planning and Public Spaces Minister, said: “Sydney’s drinking water is of paramount importance and we need to ensure its pristine condition is maintained.”
“Any application for mining in the catchment is subject to rigorous environmental assessment that includes input from Water NSW, the Dam Safety Committee and the Independent Expert Panel,” Mr Stokes said.
For its part, WaterNSW said it was “preparing a submission on this project, which will be made publicly available in due course”.
However, in documents seen by the Herald, officials were much more definitive. Last October, for instance, Malcolm Hughes, manager of WaterNSW’s catchment protection unit, wrote to the NSW Dams Safety Committee raising concerns about the impacts from Dendrobium’s longwall 16.
“We … recommend that the Application be refused on the basis that the upper bounds of reservoir water loss estimates based on recent evidence suggests that the DSC-designated Tolerable Loss will be exceeded (1.6 million litres per day relative to Tolerable Loss limit of 1 ML/d) by the time that LW16 is mined,” Mr Hughes wrote.
A separate letter dated in February 2018 to David Kitto, a Planning executive, from Fiona Smith of WaterNSW’s Catchment Protection unit, noted that the then Planning Assessment Commission had set conditions on extraction by the Wallarah 2 mine in the Central Coast region that should be applied to Dendrobium.
The conditions included “No connective cracking between the surface, or the base of the alluvium, and the underground workings”, the letter stated.
“We believe that this condition provides an important precedent for protecting drinking water catchments overlying longwalls,” Ms Smith wrote. “WaterNSW therefore suggests that a similar or higher level of protection should be afforded to Greater Sydney’s water supply, and it would therefore be appropriate to require a similar condition in any future approvals of longwall mining in the Sydney drinking water catchment.”
Dr Turner of the NPA said it was “very telling and very troubling that Planning did not take up the recommendation from WaterNSW to, at the very least, provide the Dendrobium area with the catchment protections required by the PAC – now the Independent Planning Commission – for the Wallarah 2 coal project.”
“The tragedy of the Department of Planning’s serial Dendrobium mine approvals is highlighted in the stark contrast between the bone-dry grey sediment of the mortally mining damaged Swamp 1b and the damp and dark brown-black sediment of the soon to be undermined Swamp 14,” he said.
The Australian has published a report warning that Australia’s water supply is running far behind the nation’s rapid immigration-driven population growth:
It’s the worst drought in generations… But the story goes back much further: a progressive slowdown in construction of dams over the decades has led to a crisis that might have been avoided had governments met promises to keep on building them…
Figures obtained by The Australian from the Australian National Committee on Large Dams, an independent association, show that major dam building substantially slowed at the end of the 1970s and stalled around 1990. There has been less than a 3 per cent increase in large dam storage capacity since then.
By contrast, the Australian population has risen by almost half, from 17 million to more than 25 million, sharply reducing the amount of water available to meet demands for household needs, and to provide for agriculture…
Federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud yesterday… released a federal government analysis that found that at current rates, water storage per person in NSW, Victoria and Queensland would fall by more than 30 per cent by 2030 as population grew…
The federal government that has stupidly chosen to run a ‘Big Australia’ mass immigration policy without any regard for Australia’s dryness.
And this has driven a 6.5 million (35%) increase in Australia’s population over the past 20 years:
That’s a heck of a lot of extra mouths to hydrate.
Moreover, water demand will increase inexorably as Australia’s population grows to a projected 43 million over the next 48 years,driven entirely by mass immigration:
Without positive net overseas migration (NOM), Australia’s population would remain steady and there would be 17.5 million fewer mouths to hydrate and feed in 2066.
The federal government and media can bang on all it likes about boosting water supplies, but the fact of the matter is they are the ones pushing the mass immigration policy that is importing many millions of extra water consumers.
Deep water restrictions, desalination plants, and higher water costs will be the inevitable outcome from this policy lunacy.