Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program on October 28, but not as a panellist. He was allowed to be a part of the audience, but only after what he described as a “struggle”.
The show, ostensibly about “drought”, did not include a single First Nations activist.
Shillingsworth has just returned from leading a 300-strong Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival Bus Tour to north-west New South Wales to bear witness to how greed and corruption, as well as drought, has impacted communities.
When Q&A producers refused to include Shillingsworth on the “expert” panel, Water for the Rivers started a campaign that led to the producers eventually agreeing to allow him to ask a question — from the audience.
Shillingsworth took the opportunity to spell out a few facts, including that the rivers are drying up, putting people's lives and livelihoods in danger, largely because of corruption and greed, not just because of the drought.
Below is a slightly abridged transcript of his comments, which ABC management is now cynically using to promote its show.
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We just came back from the big Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroborree on the rivers: Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Wilcannia, Menindee. I took a convoy of 300 people and, on the rivers, we had about 1000 at the Corroborree each night.
Those on the journey spoke to our elders in those communities; they wanted to hear from those communities. They have been voiceless for the last couple of years.
Water mismanagement, corruption and corporate greed — capitalism — in this country has killed our rivers. They have killed our communities.
We've been out in those communities: health has deteriorated; our old people are now dying; our young people have a high rate of mental health problems and suicides. The people on dialysis can't get water to flush their machines. So they've got to migrate, move on to bigger towns and cities.
A lot of the First Nation people are leaving their tribal lands — lands that they've lived on for thousands and thousands of years.
How do we bring back the 50-year-old-cod?
How do we bring back the freshwater mussels?
How do we bring back the aquatic life, the ecosystem and the animals that relied on the river and the water?
They are now completely dead: they're extinct.
This has happened over the last 100 years.
Australia needs to wake up.
I'm listening tonight. There are two things I can hear: water and profit.
Why are we selling water to make profit? That's what I'm hearing.
My people on the river, that relied on those animals for their food source for thousands of years, are now dying.
This is the second wave of genocide that's happening in my community.
So, I'm going to speak for my community. I'm going to raise a voice for those that have been voiceless over the last 230 years.
That's what frustrates me and that's what is frustrating our community.
Why are our people dying young? Why are our people suffering?
Because of the greed. The taking of our water.
Where is First Nations rights to water? We have a right to fresh water!
Put the water back in the river — not just for us — but for the environment.