Rally for the river

At a "Rally for the River" on August 1, some 2000 people gathered on the steps of state parliament to voice concerns about the plight of the Murray River's Lower Lakes and the lack of action by state and federal politicians to address the crisis.

If the lower reaches of the Murray River do not receive a substantial flow of fresh water soon, the ecology of the region is likely to be irreparably damaged. The Ramsar Convention-listed Coorong wetlands are threatened with destruction, and acid sulphate soils are developing rapidly around the fringes of the river and the lakes of the Goolwa district.

Paul Davis from Waterkeepers Australia explained the importance of wetland ecosystems to regional environments, including that they provide carbon sinks and natural water filtering. Because the Coorong is home to many bird species that migrate to and from East Asia, he said, the international significance of the area requires more recognition.

Ken Pattison from Victoria's Plug the Pipe group told the rally about the Victorian Labor government's plan to pipe water from the Goulbourn River, which is part of the Murray-Darling river system, to shore up Melbourne's water supply. He said that the frustrations his community feels about the diversion of Murray-Darling water to cities outside the region are echoed by those of people in South Australia's Goolwa district.

Tim Whetstone, chairperson of the SA Murray Irrigators group, described the lack of planning for water self-sufficiency by cities such as Adelaide.

Premier Mike Rann did not accept an invitation to address the rally; neither did federal water minister Penny Wong or state water minister Karlene Maywald. A number of MPs were "unofficially" present, but none were prepared to take the stage to answer the protesters' questions.

The rally organisers urged people to contact as many state and federal politicians as possible, as often as possible, about the river crisis, which they stressed is a national issue.