Monday 26 February 2018


The Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) Plan of 2012 aims to manage both consumptive water use (for towns and irrigators) and environmental water to ensure the natural ecosystems in the basin receive sufficient water for their long-term health.  A strong impetus for the plan development was concern about the increasing level of water extraction and declining river health across the Basin.

 The success of the plan relies on the cooperation of the four states – Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia - as well as the Federal Government.

Concerns about the effectiveness of the plan have been aired for some time  These came to a head in July last year with the ABC TV Four Corners expose about water theft and meter tampering in the Barwon-Darling part of the Basin.  That was cause enough for worry but what made it even worse was the lack of effort in NSW to ensure compliance with the law as well as the stench of corruption from the upper level of the NSW department responsible for monitoring and compliance.

At the beginning of this month a group of water scientists and economists aired their concerns about the ineffectiveness of the plan in their Murray-Darling Basin Declaration.

They stated that with $6 billion already spent on water recovery projects across the basin – including $4 billion to subsidise irrigation, there was for many of the projects “no scientific evidence that they have actually increased net stream flows.”

They were also concerned that despite spending $500 million to upgrade water meters “as much as 75 percent of all surface water diversions in the northern part of the Basin may still not have water meters.”

The group has also called for an independent audit of all water recovery measures across the Basin as well as a new scientific body to advise governments on the implementation of the 2007 Federal Water Act, the Act which led to the development of the MDB Plan.

As these criticisms have been rejected by the Federal Government, the MDB Authority and the National Irrigators Council, any improvement to the Plan appears unlikely.

            - Leonie Blain

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on February 12, 2018.

Tuesday 20 February 2018


A study into the relationship between aerial pollutants from unconventional gas mining and health problems on Queensland's Darling Downs was recently reported in the International Journal of Environmental Studies. That report confirms that Northern Rivers residents dodged a massive bullet when people power forced the NSW government to end gas exploration here.

The report is highly critical of the government for allowing “unchecked expansion of unconventional gas companies into the Darling Downs”, with “a remarkable lack of substantive investigation into potential human health impacts”.

The fact that “no baseline environmental studies, human health risk assessments or health studies were undertaken before large-scale extraction took place”, is also criticised as does the failure of state-based research organisations to undertake any substantive research or investigation into the health impacts reported by gas field residents. Those impacts - nosebleeds, rashes, respiratory symptoms, and paraesthesia - were widely reported, with the industry vigorously denying any responsibility.

With no base-line data identifying the cause was always going to be difficult, with one study, the 2010 Australian Research Council's, “A Human Health Risk Assessment for developing CSG water resources in Queensland”, reportedly aborted when the industry partner, Santos, withdrew funding.

US studies have linked an increased rate and severity of asthma attacks, cardiac, neurological, and skin conditions; an increased incidence of congenital heart defects; childhood leukaemia; low birth weight and early infant death with the presence of the unconventional gas industry.

The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Services report that between 2007 and 2014, respiratory admissions rose from 1,247 to 3,051 and circulatory admissions from 2,198 to 5,141.

During that time the combined airborne emissions (kilograms) self-reported by QGC, Origin, Santos, and Arrow, saw the following increases:
Carbon monoxide – 754,000 to 6,800,000.
Nitrogen oxides – 1,704,000 to 10,048,000.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds – 153,400 to 670,600
ParticulateMatter10 – 33,350 to 5,572,422.
Particulate Matter 2.5 – 1,210 to 301,113
Formaldehyde – 25 to 160,420
Sulphur dioxide – 1061 to 12,976

The Northern Rivers dodged the bullet, but other areas, such as the Pilliga, are still fighting for their right to clean air and water.

- John Edwards

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on February 5, 2018.

Monday 12 February 2018


Will the Situation Improve Following EPA Chief's Resignation?

Barry Buffier, chairman and chief executive of the NSW Environment Protection Agency (EPA) retired late last year after what the Sydney Morning Herald referred to as “a year of intense scrutiny” of the organisation.

Some of the problems with the EPA which led  to this scrutiny in the media in 2017 were:

- Failures in dealing effectively with breaches of forestry regulations by Forests NSW.  (For a considerable time the North-East Forests Alliance - NEFA - has been highlighting failures of 
the EPA to follow-up reports of breaches as well as the inadequate penalties imposed when the agency has taken action.)

- An inadequate policy for dealing with waste contamination including asbestos on residential land in Sydney. (The EPA policy was not to declare significant contamination of residential land for fear of hurting property prices.)

- An inability to deal with the extent of inter-state waste trafficking as NSW operators were trucking large quantities of waste to Queensland to avoid NSW waste levies.

The Chair of the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC) , Don White, said, " The conservation movement has felt the EPA under Mr Buffier has at times identified more closely with the industries it regulates than the communities whose interests it is supposed to protect."

It will be interesting to see if the EPA does a better job under new leadership.

Source for this post. 


Sunday 4 February 2018


Is it possible that a Tasmanian tiger could be alive and living in the  NSW Northern Rivers?

Although studies have indicated the thylacine's extinction from the mainland for over 2000 years, sightings of the animal are regularly reported from around the country, including the Northern Rivers where around 70 records have been received by ABC North Coast radio Wildlife Wednesday host Gary Opit.

While scientists keep the nation’s hopes up by conceding the difficulties of identifying a nocturnal animal in dense bushland at night, the question remains, with so many mobile phones and camera across the continent why have the numerous sightings not yet included irrefutable evidence of the tiger's existence?

While photographs can be readily questioned, there is in fact a video from Queensland on line, which must at least raise the question - if that isn't some type of injured dog, what else could the creature possibly be?  ( )

Together with numerous other sighting reports from Queensland, this brief footage has raised sufficient interest to send a team of researchers from the James Cook University into the remote north to try to track the animal down

Meanwhile other scientists maintain an open mind, and in Tasmania, where the last known Australian tiger died in the Hobart Beaumaris Zoo in 1936, thylacine researcher Colin Bailey believes the marsupial could still exist in that State, despite the more than 400 cameras set up around the forests at any one time.

Mr Bailey does though brush off the numerous sightings from the mainland as wishful thinking. And Tasmanian wildlife biologist Nick Mooney agrees with him, suggesting the many mainland sightings are proof only of Australia's addiction to new mobile technology.

In South Australia, SA Water is using new technology that identifies organisms that have been in contact with the State’s water, including thylacines, to analyse DNA from droppings thought to possibly have come from a Tasmanian tiger.

In Western Australia the Nannup community is so familiar with the animal that they hold an annual thylacine festival, which this year involved the launch of a manuscript Living the Thylacine Dream, by South Australian thylacine enthusiast Neil Waters documenting the many sightings in WA

In the Northern Rivers the most recent report, like many of the others, mentions an unfamiliar animal with a distinctive lumbering gait. This perfectly matches the image of the lumbering animal in the Queensland video, which appears to be using both hind legs together, almost as if on the way to evolving to hop.

In the meantime, with no news yet from the James Cook research team who were due to end their studies this month, it still must be admitted that the odds are heavily against a genuine true-blue thylacine ever turning up again.

But it would be very exciting to be wrong.

Patricia Edwards 
(Nov 2017)