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Mary MacKillop's lesson for Murray-Darling irrigators


Governments often overlook the needs of rural and regional Australians, as most of us live in the big cities, and that's where the votes are. It's therefore providential that a handful of regional MPs hold the balance of power in the lower house of the current parliament. 

No doubt their pivotal position was instrumental in the appointment of the member for New England, Tony Windsor, to chair the parliamentary committee that is looking into the social and economic impacts of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Windsor is proving himself a master negotiator and appears to be a politician of great integrity and tact. Lingering enmities with the Nationals notwithstanding, he looks to have what it takes to inspire confidence and goodwill in those who are aggrieved by the circumstances they face.

He has his work cut out for him in the case of the Murray-Darling Basin irrigators, whose initial response to proposed cuts in water allocation can only be described as juvenile and counterproductive. In a highly symbolic action, protestors acting on their behalf burned copies of the 223 page Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan, in a bonfire on a field adjoining the Yoogali Club at Griffith in southern NSW.

The Plan of the Murray Darling Basin Commission appears to be well researched and presented. But it does represent a serious threat to the livelihood of the irrigators. Previous generations of irrigators established unsustainable practices, and today's irrigators are being forced to pay the price. The cuts aim to ensure that those living in towns and cities dependent upon the Murray-Darling have enough drinking water, and that the ecosystem surrounding the river system survives.

Governments have a responsibility to look after the economic and social needs of the irrigators, and also ensure the sustainability of the Murray-Darling. It is to be hoped that Tony Windsor can persuade the irrigators to enter into respectful negotiations about their future so that hostile actions do not elicit a forceful response from authorities.

Mary MacKillop, who was canonised last night, was a champion of rural and regional Australians. It is worth considering her strategy in the context of the irrigators' struggle for survival.

MacKillop is often depicted as a fighter, a person who is able to marshall forces capable of intimidating her opponents. But she was not thuggishly combative. Instead she was steadfast in her determination to improve the conditions of those marginalised by their remote location or treatment by authorities.

Her style was more characterised by a disarming serenity that was 'neither pretty, nor small, nor meek, nor malleable', to use Moira Rayner's words in Eureka Street last week. 

Tony Windsor would do well to invoke the spirit of Mary MacKillop. If she was working among the families of today's threatened irrigators of the Murray-Darling, no doubt she would urge them to stop burning books and enter into respectful but determined negotiations with authorities.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches media ethics in the University of Sydney's Department of Media and Communications.

Topic tags: Tony Windsor, Murray-Darling Basin, irrigators, independents, mary mackillop, australia's first saint



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Existing comments

Can someone who knows Tony Windsor pass this article on to him please?

Marea Donovan | 18 October 2010  

The problem is not the irrigators but whole communities being threatened. A plan was handed down that promises literally to decimate dozens of vibrant communities, but with no prior consultation, no real research into the effects of the cuts. The only concession there was the promise of more tourists and bird watchers (that well known high spending demographic) if there is more water.

To put this into its true cultural perspective, imagine somebody from say the U.N. mandating that the entire Sydney CBD be converted to parkland and that there was not to be any replacement buildings in the Sydney Basin area. Then you would see rioting in the streets.

It is no good city people whether bureaucrats or media ethics academics pontificating from the safety of their safe city location.

What you all don't get is that this is not a giant national park where nobody lives. There are people here who have lived here for generations.

The social justice issue is that remote "experts" and politicians keep on making decisions for rural people as if we don't count for anything.

Keith Bates | 18 October 2010  

I fail to see any connections between Mary MacKillop and Tony Windsor. They seem to be totally on opposite side of the moral spectrum, one a great Australian Saint and the other a politician trying to pretend to care. Tony Windsor has already betrayed his voters. He is now in bed with Labor and the loony left Greens. I do not trust him at all.

Beat Odermatt | 18 October 2010  

The Murray-Darling report is a new zenith in the greenies war. Irrigators should be urged to campaign vigorously against this destructive proposal.

You say the report is well researched, but there is no mention of the fact that until white man came and put in weirs the Murray regularly dropped back to ’a chain of stagnant pools’.
If you are interested I have a couple of photos showing numerous ‘occupied’ buggies in the dry riverbed.

In fact ‘The Report’ endeavours to build on the global warming hoax (climate change when temperatures stopped rising).

‘The Report’ ignores the historical fact that however difficult a drought is, it is also followed by bountiful rains - or as some Queenslander say ”the bigger the drought the bigger the flood”

While the climate gods claim care of the environment, their ultimate aims is to minimize the number of humans on the planet.

Don’t expect many rural people to fawn on Tony Windsor, whom we see as the ultimate ‘two timer’.

Pat Healy | 18 October 2010  

I agree that governments have a responsibilty both to look after the social and economic needs of the irrigators and their communities and to ensure that water from the Murray-Darling basin is used in a sustainable way. I hope that the highly emotional response of farmers to the Authority's draft proposal does not sway the Government from its stated objective of implementing the final report of the Authority when it is published, while at the same time putting in place an effective policy which protects the basin communities. So far it has not been shown that these two objectives are irreconcilable.

Tony santospirito | 18 October 2010  

Would that the same spirit of disarming serenity be shown by Adelaide Hills residents when considering the proposed refugee accommodation near Woodside.

Leigh Newton | 22 October 2010  

“endeavours to build on the global warming hoax (climate change when temperatures stopped rising)” ??

When have temperatures stopped rising? They have been rising over the last three decades. Each decade getting warmer than the last.

The future of the Murray-Darling basin is an important national issue and needs to be worked through carefully.

Enough already of the idea that global warming is a “greenie” hoax. Our Holy Father believes it, as do the overwhelming majority of scientists, religious leaders, politicians, businesses, and ordinary people around the globe. It is happening and we need to take action. Get informed and get constructive.

Damien Quinnell | 26 October 2010  

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