Thursday 31 August 2017


The ten yearly push by inland vested interests to divert Clarence River water inland across, or through, the Great Dividing Range, is on again.

In 2007, a Federal Government proposal to dam either the Mann or Upper Clarence to divert 100,000 megalitres (ML) a year to SE Queensland, led to the Bourke and Cobar Councils requesting another 100,000 ML be pumped their way. Not to be left out, SA’s Alexandrina Council proposed 1.3 million ML be diverted to keep the Murray River flowing into their State. Now it's Griffith that wants the water.

Historically, around 1.3 million ML has been a common figure. Supposedly 20% of the Clarence River's average flow, this is based on the myth of a 5 million ML average. However, the Lilydale gauge, just above the tidal pool, shows average flows over 53 years are 3 million ML, not 5.  So 1.3 million is actually closer to 40% of the flow.

The Upper Clarence's Tabulam gauge, showing average annual flows of only 670,000 ML, puts that site out of the question. The Mann attracts most attention because it carries the most water. On average the Mann River carries 1.5 million ML annually, but taking 1.3 million ML from there, equates to an unacceptable 80% of its flow.

Dam-filling floods can come decades apart, so a minimum 5 million ML dam is required, such as that proposed for the Mann downstream of Jackadgery in 1957. If built it would have inundated over 200 km of the Mann, Boyd and Nymboida wild rivers, and required another dam at Nymboida to stop water spilling over the range. Over 150 km of the Armidale, Gwydir and Old Glen Innes Roads would have required rerouting, and evaporation would have exceeded inflows during droughts, on average once in every six years.

Clearly proponents put little thought into these proposals, something borne out by the Griffith NSW Farmers' submission to a current NSW Upper House Inquiry, asking Government to “explore the possibility of diverting the Clarence River inland to mitigate flooding in Lismore”.
Obviously these schemes simply don't hold water!

- John Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on August 14, 2017.   

Sunday 13 August 2017


For years, environmentalists have been ringing alarm bells over the unregulated expansion of intensive horticulture across the North Coast. Only two months ago this column published an article identifying serious problems relating to water availability, and the failure of state and local governments to regulate the industry.

The Clarence Environment Centre recently received a letter from the Primary Industries Minister, responding to concerns, not just about lack of regulation, but the widespread failure to enforce compliance with existing regulations. In it, the Minister went to great lengths to explain why further regulation should not be imposed, while praising the industry for its willingness to self-regulate in the face of criticism.

However, he ignored the fact that an inter-agency committee, formed specifically to solve the emerging problems, has reported multiple cases of law breaking, and a willingness to regard paying fines as a cost of doing business.

One extraordinary statement in the Minister's letter was that: “Placing a DA requirement across all horticultural activities could inhibit other industries and may encourage non-compliant behaviour”.

Apart from the fact that nobody is asking for regulation of “all” horticultural activities, only intensive commercial operations, the suggestion that an industry should not be regulated for fear it would not comply with regulations, is ludicrous. This is a bit like scrapping speed limits because people will ignore them!

Now, last week's explosive Four Corners revelations about the theft of water by ‘big agriculture’ from the Murray-Darling Basin raises serious concerns about the role of the Department of Primary Industry and politicians in what appears to be a thoroughly scandalous state of affairs.

The combination of these revelations, along with the widespread failure of compliance enforcement, and reluctance to regulate, suggests the likelihood of serious corruption in water management in NSW.

It is hoped that the inevitable inquiry is fully independent and that it will reveal the truth, as well as ensuring that those responsible for theft and other illegalities are dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Furthermore, from now on compliance enforcement must be given the priority it so desperately needs.

- John Edwards

  This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 31, 2017.  

Wednesday 2 August 2017


Energy prices and energy security have been in the news for many months now.  While this issue is very complex, the debate about causes and solutions has been marred by erroneous claims and blame-shifting by politicians.  This has done little to enlighten the electorate or solve the problems the nation faces. 
The security/price problem exists because successive governments from both major parties have failed to understand the impact of the technological change and to plan properly for the future.
Added to this is the failure, particularly by the Federal Government, to understand community opposition to coal seam gas (CSG) mining and fracking and the threats this industry poses to agriculture, clean water, the natural environment and  human health.  Communities in the NSW Northern Rivers and elsewhere have learnt from overseas and Queensland just how invasive and damaging this industry is. 

The Federal Government’s concern about domestic gas availability and price have led to it planning to restrict exports when there is a local shortage.  It has also called on states such as NSW and Victoria to open up their states to CSG and unconventional gas mining.

Unsurprisingly the export restriction plan has annoyed the extremely profitable companies exporting huge quantities of Australian gas.  One of their spokespersons, former federal politician Ian Macfarlane, now Queensland Resources Council CEO, supports the government’s call to remove bans on CSG and unconventional gas mining in NSW and Victoria.  That gas could then be used domestically without affecting the industry’s exports.  Furthermore Macfarlane suggested states not lifting bans should be penalised by getting a smaller GST share.

Lock the Gate’s National Coordinator, Carmel Flint, said this was an extraordinary attempt by the mining and resource sector to undermine the “democratic distribution of our taxes”.  She also pointed out that sixty percent of large energy and resource companies pay no corporate tax in Australia and that it was disgraceful that they should attempt to influence how taxes were spent in order to promote their industry.
Whatever the Federal Government and the big mining companies want, opposition to CSG and unconventional gas mining won’t go away.
            - Leonie Blain

  This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 24, 2017.