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Rallying for river rights

Sunset Strip local, Barry Stone, spent last week in Canberra as part of a consortium of Aboriginal leaders, farmers, irrigators, ecologists, and environmental organisations, united to urge politicians to deliver results for the Murray Darling Basin system.

The alliance called for the strengthening of the Restoring Our Rivers (2023) Bill, to allow for the return of water into the system, and addressed the looming threats of drought, long-term mismanagement of the river system, and climate change on the ecosystem.

Mr Stone said that he is campaigning for the return of water rights for traditional owners, and the return of 450 gigalitres of water to the river system.

A listing of the Menindee Lakes system in the RAMSAR Convention, Mr Stone argues, is also necessary to facilitate the prioritisation of conservation for the system, ahead of other commercial interests.

He is worried that without these protections, “there could be an ecological collapse in the ecosystem, because the Menindee Lakes system is such an important part of the entire river network, but yet we are struggling to get a voice for it.”

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Making headlines for closing the Wilcannia Bridge along the Barrier Highway in 2016 to protest the management of the Menindee Lakes System, the 2019 Menindee fish kill, and the three subsequent ecological disasters, spurred him to make his voice in Canberra heard.

In a meeting with Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, he told the Truth that he stated he “didn’t want to be the person to catch the last fish in the river, because it could possibly happen in my lifetime.”

That meeting was part of a broader programme for Ms Plibersek, who spent the day meeting with members of the consortium after receiving a petition with 10,000 signatures from those living across the basin, calling for action to protect the river system.

Mr Stone also warned of further fish kills ahead, flagging concern that in his opinion, Menindee will likely see a further two events over the summer.

“We’re down on our muscles, and in many places we’re down on our shrimp,” Mr Stone mentioned.

With the fate of his activism now before the Senate, and with the High Courts’ recent rejection of his class action against the Murray Darling Basin Authority, he noted that “now, all we can do is use our people.”

“If that means shutting bridges off again, I’ll be there, we’re going to rally again, we have to rally behind the environment,” he added.

On Monday, November 27, the federal government struck a deal with the Greens to amend the Murray Darling Basin Plan, meaning at least two more crossbenchers are required to deliver support to the proposed legislation as it goes before the Senate.

PICTURE: Barry Stone was in Canberra last week to rally for fairer water rules. PHOTO: Hilary Wardhaugh.

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