Ecological disaster on the Murray Darling – HSI calls for emergency reinstatement of revoked protection

By : Humane Society International January 11, 2019

Humane Society International is calling for protection that was revoked for Murray Darling wetlands to be reinstated as one emergency response to the ecological disaster unravelling on the river. In 2013 both the River Murray and Macquarie Marshes were listed as Critically Endangered ecosystems and set to receive the full benefit of Australia's national environment laws. One of the first acts of the Abbott Government was to disallow the listings in the Senate.

Along with the rest of Australia, Humane Society International is distressed and alarmed by the crisis on the Murray Darling River, with thousands of fish killed, as well as wildlife and stock becoming stuck in muddy riverbanks and suffering terrible deaths after desperate attempts to find water.

The disaster is a result of climate change and years of water mismanagement, and Humane Society International is calling on both the Federal Government and Opposition to commit to the urgent relisting of the River Murray and the Macquarie Marshes as Critically Endangered Ecological Communities.

Humane Society International made the nominations in 2008 and in 2013 the Threatened Species Scientific Committee confirmed their critically endangered status in expert advice which was provided to Labor MP Mark Butler, then Federal Minister for the Environment. Butler listed both ecosystems as Critically Endangered under our national environment law. The 2013 federal election soon followed.

Threatened Ecological Community listings can be disallowed within 15 Parliamentary sitting days but this had never been done before. Incoming Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who had been lobbied by the National Irrigators Council, Macquarie River Food and Fibre, and his Nationals colleagues, disallowed the Critically Endangered listings on 12 December 2013 in one of his first acts as minister.

"Greg Hunt was the first and currently only environment minister to disallow a Threatened Ecological Community listing. After pressure from industry power brokers he overturned the clear scientific evidence of the Murray Darling's Critically Endangered state. The disregard for science was infuriating then, and even more so now that we are witnessing this environmental disaster,” said Evan Quartermain, Head of Programs at Humane Society International.

"No doubt denying legal protections for the Murray Darling ecosystems, which were so obviously needed, has played a part in the crisis. They would have assisted environmental flow allocations and placed greater scrutiny on major extraction activities. Our decision makers need to understand that when you ignore clear science, the consequences are severe,Mr Quartermain continued.

Humane Society International will be renominating both the River Murray and the Macquarie Marshes as Critically Endangered Ecological Communities, but with years of potential recovery already missed and the system in need of urgent help, we call on current Minister Melissa Price to instate an emergency listing and for Labor to commit to re-listing.

Image: Nick Moir | Sydney Morning Herald

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