Australians are starting to adapt to some of the ‘new norms’ with COVID-19: but it remains inconceivable that we still have empty supermarket shelves! We are facing big shortages of food staples the likes of which we have not experienced in this country since the dark old days of WW2 rationing. We have been led to believe that the shortages are a consequence of panic buying, as marauding hordes of crazed consumers embrace ‘bulk buying’ behaviour. But do consumers deserve all the blame?
We are starting to hear noise that the problem is actually a supply shortage, with Australians quickly realising that we no longer produce sufficient staples like dairy, red meat, wheat and rice to meet domestic demand. This was recently highlighted by the 60 Minutes program in relation to Australia’s food security, or rather, the lack of it. Many Australians were alarmed to hear that this country, once renowned for its safe clean, green food exports, is actually importing dairy, pork, wheat and rice, as we are now incapable of meeting our immediate consumption needs.
The reason for the shortages came about two years ago when the Federal government shut down farming in the irrigation area of the Riverina in the southern district of New South Wales, by turning the irrigation water off. This region once produced 60% of Australia’s dairy and grain, with the excess an export commodity and wealth creator for our nation. This is no longer the case.
The Federal government has effectively decided to shoot itself in the ‘food security’ foot and apparently cannot explain why! The only nonsensical distraction is that age old chestnut: the ‘blame game‘ by pointing the finger at another jurisdiction; i.e. States versus the Feds is always a good excuse to avoid responsibility and do nothing.
The concepts of food security and spreading dependency risk are lost on the nation’s leaders. Meanwhile the livelihoods of thousands of Australians are being destroyed, with the forced suffering of the southern farming communities and nation wide food shortages. It seems that we are all invisible to governments who remain aloof and indecisive.
To make matters worse, the countries who usually export food staples to Australia are now holding onto their produce fearing that their domestic food security is at risk. The expectation is that food shortages will get worse in Australia unless the government delivers irrigation water back to the farmers in the Riverina. They simply need to turn the tap back on otherwise no water, no food!
This mess gets even more ridiculous when we ask, what happened to the productive irrigation water the government confiscated from farmers? Well most of it has been wasted for no good reason according to ‘Speak Up 4 Water’. The government’s epic mismanagement and absurd incompetence is simply bizarre, irrational and farcical. One of their more infamous blunders attracting international media attention was running the Darling River bone dry, killing millions of native fish in the Menindee Lakes and wasting 900 billion litres of fresh water by washing it out to sea. How could they get that wrong?
The next rookie fiasco courtesy of the Murray Darling Basin Authority was the vast flooding of the Murray by running the river above capacity, bursting its banks and washing away 1,120 billion litres of water. The flooding caused massive environmental damage to the Barmah National Park‘s river red gum forest and a widespread ecological disaster for local native fauna and flora. This is another catastrophe to add to the litany of errors; one river system drained completely dry, while the other was flooded beyond capacity. They can’t even get the simple stuff right!
The 2,500 kilometre long Murray River eventually flows into the lower lakes in South Australia which was once a salt water tidal estuary. The fresh irrigation water flows through the lakes and out to sea. The surplus unused irrigation water just sits in these shallow saline lakes, an area of 508 sq. km which acts like a massive ‘evaporation pan’ and as a result, unnecessary water waste is estimated at 1,800 billion litres. Why not use this water productively upstream to produce fresh food, after all, water evaporating ‘on farm’ has to be better for the environment than contributing to the salinity of the lower lakes?
Remember: Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and this is how its government treats our most precious resource. Why?
Let me float a theory past you. The more water these chumps waste the higher the price of water and the higher the cost of food production, which coincidentally favours those merchant bankers who trade in ‘water rights’ that once belonged to primary producers. That’s another classic government decision that hinders the production of food in this country but happens to line the pockets of international hedge funds, corporates and apparently politicians (See Cayman Island story).
Riverina farmers have also been abandoned by the peak industry body the National Farmers Federation (NFF). Why have the NFF sided with the government who reportedly funds this group for millions through the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment? I suppose its good management not to bite the hand that feeds you. Then again many farmers know the NFF is not representative of farmer’s interests. It is understandable that these types of bodies act in the best interests of their ‘Partners’. Perhaps the NFF should consider changing their name when their ‘Partners‘ are a national supermarket chain, a couple of telecommunication heavy weights, an insurance company and a superannuation fund.
Not surprisingly Mick Keelty’s Murray-Darling Basin review was another soft fluffy report destined for the archives with a complete absence of action or outcomes. Right from the start, I could never understand why cop Keelty was fronting a water review, given his history, judgement and background.
These water wastage figures are enormous and beyond the comprehension of most non farming punters. We should be asking our local member of parliament why, in just two years have they wasted the equivalent of 6.8 Sydney Harbours worth of productive irrigation water? How much rice, wheat, red meat and dairy could otherwise have been produced by our farmers; quality clean and green, local fresh food.
There are so many bad consequences resulting from the government’s massive stuff ups. What happens when you take livelihoods away from hard working minority groups and desert them for no good reason? These rural communities are experiencing real hardship, unimaginable anguish and if you take away hope, then expect desperate people to do desperate things. What is happening in these communities is leaving a trail of misery, physical pain and hurt caused by unbearable, sadness and despair, felt by those managing to hang on, those who have been forced off their land and those prematurely departed.
There is definitely a swell of rebellion or insurrection in the air. Make no mistake, listen to the political leadership’s rhetoric and narrative:
“I made it absolutely clear…I’ll tell you what will happen…they will rise in the street of the Riverina…they will rise with pitchforks…because what we are robbing these people and the generations…is the opportunity to feed this nation…and I’ll tell you what…I’ll be at the front of that line with my own pitchfork…because now is the time…and I want the Australian public to understand…now is the time…that we need to use our water for this nation…to feed this nation and…I tell you what…time has run out”! John Barilaro, Deputy Premier of New South Wales, 13 April 2020. (Starts at 6:45)
We talk about culture wars but now we are hearing language that amounts to civil war. It doesn’t take much to spark a wildfire! If anyone is in a position to influence actual outcomes it would be Barilaro but instead he delivers a soapbox full of tough guy, chest beating bravado, talking a big game but as we all know ‘walking the walk’ requires an entirely separate set of skills i.e. actionable outcomes. My deep concern is that this type of colourful language attracts the wrong types, those irresponsible extreme violent activists who interpret such language as a green light for a little anarchy and that won’t help our farming communities.
Perhaps a question for the Deputy Premier should be: Is it still an offence to incite violent crime such as riot or affray?
17 April 2020
“It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution”. Vladimir Lenin