“The drought? Bullshit!”

Shouts and jeers from 150 protesters on the steps of state parliament added some life to the normally quiet Sunday morning in Adelaide. They were there on 27 January to fight for the Murray-Darling river system, which is dying. 

Neil Andrew, Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chairman, was addressing the crowd. It wasn’t going well.

Asked how he could justify draining the Menindee Lakes twice in four years, Andrew offered the usual cheap excuses we’ve heard from politicians in recent weeks – that the disturbing images of mass fish kills in Menindee are just a natural part of life.

As Nationals leader and deputy prime minister Michael McCormack put it in an ABC interview, “That’s the weather patterns and the climate of Australia – it’s been going on since the year dot”.

It doesn’t hold up. Decades-old Murray cod are among those fish killed. They’ve survived previous droughts – but they couldn’t survive the Basin Authority’s water management policies, which help big agribusiness at the expense of downstream communities.

Neil Andrew is a former Liberal politician and irrigator. He’s typical of the big agribusiness interests in charge of regulations. The crowd, rightly, were furious at him. “You’re corrupt!”, yelled one protester.

A few days later, the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission released its report, which contained a scathing assessment of the MDBA.

“Science, as that term should be understood, was not used”, was the rather droll way commissioner Bret Walker put it. Instead, the report found, MDBA senior management made plans based on business and political interests. 

As Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young noted at the protest before the report was released, “This is not about drought. This is about corporate greed, cotton, corruption and, ultimately, climate change is making it all worse”.

We know the problems, and we know what the solutions are: we must stop subsidising the water usage of agribusiness, shut down the unsustainable cotton industry, remove all corporate control over the Basin Authority and take real action on climate change. 

That’s why the campaign shouldn’t be focused on a federal royal commission. Another commission will just drag out the process and give us a bunch of recommendations that will never be implemented. The river is dying. It’s an absolute crisis. The time for action is now.