The community cheers for a healthy Murray-Darling
The up and downstreams of decades of water misuse in the Murray rivers means we haven't seen a good outcome for our lifeblood in years. Now is the time to demand a plan that restores the health of the Murray Darling Basin.
It's impossible to ignore.
Over the last year we, along with our partner organisations in South Australia and a range of community spokespersons, created a spirited on-the-ground campaign.
If you live in Adelaide, you might have seen this campaign unfolding over the last three months.
The public meeting was the culmination of over twelve months of leaflet letterboxing, a barrage of media coverage on the issue, a striking set of billboards, and the Adelaide Advertiser’s own I Love Murray campaign.
Gathered in the soft glow of the Adelaide Town Hall were 600 people united by a passion and commitment for ensuring the Murray Darling Basin Authority delivers a plan that guarantees the health of the Murray and Darling rivers
The room was warmed by a short documentary about the Coorong from Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner.
In 2011 Sumner united a group of aboriginal nations, deeply concerned about the fate of their ancestral waters, with a 2300 kilometre pilgrimage that danced the spirit back into the river.
Further setting the tone for the evening was an awe-inspiring traditional Ngarrindjeri song from Rita Lindsay Jr and her brother Michael evoking the soul of the Coorong.
The stage of the resplendent Town Hall was divided into two panels.
Occupying the first was: Jay Weatherill, South Australian Premier Peter Owen, South Australian of the Year (Environment) and Richard Kingsford, Director, Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre, UNSW.
The second consisted of federal politicians, including: Senator Simon Birmingham; Tony Burke, Minister for Environment; Kate Ellis, Member for Adelaide; Senator Sarah Hanson-Young; and Senator Nick Xenophon.
Each speaker was asked to describe three ways they'll champion the river in the coming months, as the Basin plan moves from a draft to a document responsible for the ongoing management of our lifeblood.
Premier Weatherill spoke eloquently of seeing justice for all Australians in the course of the river.
He looked into the future, 'I'm not going to sit down and tell my grandchildren that I've let this opportunity pass and netiher should you', and emphasised the river system as a common resource, to be shared amongst the many communities it threads through.
Professor Kingsford, a leading river scientist, drew laughter from the crowd when he apologised for showing a graph. 'I have to,' he said, 'I'm a scientist'
He highlighted the plight of the freshwater turtles, victims of over salination and over dredging in the Basin, and implored the Murray Darling Basin Authority to listen to the key scientific tests for a healthy Murray.
Tony Burke spoke of how his integrity as water minister will be mirrored in the strength of the plan, casting a surprisingly progressive stone into the crowd, 'The environment underpins everything economic and social. Rivers do die from the mouth up'.
Senator Birmingham invoked Mark Twain, who travelled through South Australia in the late 19th century, 'Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over' and reiterated the urgency of a plan based on robust science.
We all know that 2750 gigalitres is not enough to keep the river system alive and free of salt.
After a series of questions from the audience directed to members of the panel, Don Henry concluded the discussions with words whose meaning can't be diluted:
There is no future on a dead river – whether you're an environmentalist, a traditional owner or an irrigator
The evening was rounded off by a rousing cheer from the panellists, speakers and staunch members of the community, the beating heart behind the momentum of this nationally significant campaign.
This emphatic outcry for the health of the Murray has been clearly heard in Canberra – where the final Murray-Darling Basin Plan will likely pass through parliament later this year.
The public meeting made one thing is evidently clear: the more support we can show for a strong science-based plan for the Murray-Darling from South Australia, the better the chances are for making it better.
And this is the right time to be doing it.
The submissions to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan close on Monday 16 April.
Did you go to the meeting? If you did, or watched the live stream, tell us what you thought of the meeting in the comments below.