Michelle Lensink

Mr Henry Jones

A speech given in support of a motion to commemorate the late Mr Henry Jones

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 15:56 :55 ): I move:

That this council expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr Henry Jones and places on record its appreciation of his long and tireless commitment to the River Murray and the Murray-Darling Basin.

Mr Henry Jones passed away on 15 April, aged 72, at his home at Clayton Bay. The outpouring of acknowledgements, including the ministerial statement delivered by the Minister for Water and the River Murray when Henry's family was present on 20 May in this place, is testament to the number of people Henry's life touched and to his relentless advocacy for the River Murray, which led to the culmination of the signing of the protections for the Murray-Darling Basin into law in 2012.

I think at the outset of my contribution it is important to acknowledge Henry's family: the love of his life, Gloria, whom he married in 1962, his three daughters Christine, Julie and Susan, his five granddaughters and his grandson. His funeral on Easter Saturday in his hometown of Clayton Bay was attended by between 600 and 800 people, with a large number of eulogies which went for several hours. I also acknowledge that this motion was instigated by the member for Hammond, Mr Adrian Pederick, and his contribution and the contribution of other members on 22 May in the other place cover a lot of Henry's fascinating story.

Henry Jones was a fourth generation fisherman who moved to Clayton Bay in 1961 and was joined the following year by his wife, Gloria, after they married. They were pioneers. There was no telephone, no electricity and poor roads that bogged from winter rains and in the summer from sand. This led to high levels of self-sufficiency, the consumption of local bird and seafood species, growing vegetables and keeping chickens.

Henry Jones was a community man through and through. He captained his local CFS, he started boat clubs, organised building for the local hall and served on the local council for 10 years. At the time that he first moved to Clayton Bay and was fishing in the river system, the condition of the environment was that it was full of diverse native species and teeming with life.

Henry Jones was the president of the Southern Fishermen's Association and, through that role, they developed the first environmental management plan for a whole of fishery approach. They were also the first fishing community to receive a Marine Stewardship Council certification.

I am grateful to his good friend Peter Smith OAM, who sends a number of people his 'Snippets' document, which is quite lengthy, particularly the one that he sent out following Henry Jones's funeral, including Ian Doyle's eulogy. I would just like to quote from that because I think he has put it in words that probably express it very well. These are Ian Doyle's words at Henry's funeral:

The Murray mouth closing in April 1981 caused him to focus on the big picture questions about the river system.

The whole area was rapidly dying in the blink of an eye in the life of the Coorong. He knew as a nation we had finally tipped over the limit of extraction of water upstream. Henry realised that like greedy idiots we just kept taking and not giving anything back to the environment.

Sure, there was enough for critical human needs. Sure, there was some for irrigators but there was only a bit left for the environment, not enough to make a difference.

Species after species became extinct to the area below Blanchetown.

Fish and birds, in fact every living thing was very seriously affected.

In 1981 at the Adelaide University he started his crusade to save the Murray. Apart from a few scientists, he didn't have many mates.

After speeches in universities, public meetings, to politicians, to local councils to anyone who wanted to listen he made his own lectern that he would throw in the ute and cart all over the Murray-Darling Basin.

People began to listen but that was not a challenge to powerful irrigators groups. He knew he needed to go onto committees.

What followed were The Murray Darling Native Fish Strategy Committee, the Murray River Natural Resource Management Advisory Board, the Murray Darling Basin Community Reference Committee and lastly and most importantly the MDB Community Committee.

I will just add to that, from other records, to note that Henry was a member of the Living Murray Community Reference Group, the Lower Murray Reference Group and River Murray Advisory Committee, and he was the spokesperson for the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group. Returning to Mr Doyle's eulogy:

Through these committees that consisted of leaders of their communities, the message of the River's plight was revealed in no uncertain terms.

What followed was 31 years of lobbying, debating, encouraging, addressing, being threatened and abused, mullet BBQs and trips to Canberra and the Murray mouth—largely at his own expense—and for too many times to remember.

Towards the end of the fight for the Murray, staff of the Murray Darling Basin and Henry copped abuse that you would not give to your dog, but they kept on fighting. Meetings were so hostile in places like Griffith, St George and Leeton that he felt like he was in a war zone.

I think we remember those times of angst and how difficult it was. Mr Jones was certainly very accommodating in terms of hosting any member of parliament who wished to come down and visit. A number of us in this place have done so. He was often accompanied by his friends Neil Shillabeer and Clem Mason. They would also come to Adelaide and have meetings, and they clearly were quite prepared to head to Canberra as well.

In March 2012, Henry Jones was quoted in the Adelaide Advertiser. This was at the time that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was about to become law, and these were his comments:

Over-allocation was there for all to see, but no one was looking—from 1981 to 1995 allocations rose by 50 per cent.

Two-thirds of the Coorong is still four times saltier than the sea and Lake Albert remains too salty to use.

Dozens of animals and plants are now extinct in our area. Murray cod, silver perch, catfish, Yarra pygmy perch, leeches, spiral snails, all are extinct in our area.

From 2007 to 2009 the Lower Murray lakes and the Coorong were at the point of collapse.

The 2750 gigalitres the Murray Darling Basin Authority proposes to return to the system is not enough to bring health back to our area.

The plan has been squeezed by hungry upstream irrigators and surely is not enough to heal the whole Murray Darling basin, let alone keep the Murray Mouth open, to get rid of the basin salt and freshen the Coorong.

We all remember the so-called march to Canberra, which was part of the I Love Murray campaign. At that time, Henry, with his tinny and with his fresh mulloway from the Coorong, was joined by irrigator David Peake, conservationist Don Henry of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and The Advertiser journalist David Jean. At that time, Julia Gillard was the prime minister and, as Ian Doyle says, 'She was coming, which meant that everyone turned up from both sides of the house, including Greens and Independents.' He goes on to say that Nick Xenophon introduced Henry as the 'old man of the Murray', and he was allowed to talk for 10 minutes.

Henry believed that this was the peak of the mountain as opposition began to wane, that is, to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. The plan was never going to happen. He believed that had they pushed any more to the limit, the states would not accept it and they would have had to start the plan again, and I will have some quotes further on which also demonstrate the sentiments at the time.

Both prime minister Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott replied to their speeches, giving them great hope. South Australian federal Liberal members swung the opposition around and both parties allowed it to pass without objection. The bill was passed in October 2012, some six months later, which was a time of great celebration for Henry.

Henry was the first community recipient of the River Murray Medal from the MDBA.

The library has provided me with newspaper clippings, which run into some 45 pages, and about 30 electronic clips. Given that that takes into account that the records go back only to 1999 and 2009 respectively, when Henry had been campaigning since 1981, I think is fairly indicative of the amount of work he did. I will not obviously read all of this into the record, but some of it I think is worth noting.

If we start from 1999, the innovative fishing methods they had developed for his region to take into account the particular conditions they faced were noted. In fact, he said at the time that they had to hitch their catch to their vehicles otherwise it would get taken away in a rip. In the early 2000s, he was being interviewed in relation to what was termed the 'river rabbit' or the European carp. He was also asked to comment about fish bridges between the Murray and the Coorong, and I note that yesterday the minister talked about fish ladders from the barrages. In 2002, Henry predicted that 'up to half the 35 native species of fish in the Murray-Darling Basin will be extinct within 50 years due to a lack of water flow'. He said:

We all know if we are honest that the river will die if we continue water extraction at the present level. The Coorong is a major disaster waiting to happen.

In 2003, as the drought was taking hold, he said, 'Things are looking bad for river irrigators and communities.' I think that the balance of Henry's message was that all aspects are important, irrigators are important. I think that he once said in relation to fishing, 'Fishing isn't about me, it's about the fish, and we need to continue to have fish into the future.'

In 2004, he was participating in public forums alongside conservationists and members of parliament when conservation groups were calling for 1,500 gigalitres to be returned to the basin within 10 years. In 2006, he was talking about how the Lower Lakes were facing low levels, and we remember the acidity and concerns about acid sulfate soils. In 2007, he said, in talking about the proposed weir:

I cannot stress strongly enough my opposition to engineering solutions to fix problems in the River Murray. Everyone knows we have over-allocated the Murray Darling Basin's water and the only solution is to buy water from willing sellers, put that water back in the river and let our rivers run.

But if there has to be an engineering solution, at least let it be based on good environmental practice. At this point, it looks as if the Government is about to make a decision based on half-done homework at best.

He was critical of the federal minister for the environment at the time, Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, he also criticised Senator Wong, and he certainly was not afraid to criticise the current government on its handling of the matter. In February 2007, in relation to the weir, he said:

But if the drought continues and the weir is built, it will lead to devastating consequences for our environment…irreversible damage…Species unique to the area would become extinct and 'you couldn't script a greater environmental horror story. The weir must be stopped.'

He also said in that year that, as a fourth generation professional fisherman on the Coorong, when he wants to show his grandchildren a Murray cod he has to show them a picture book because the fish have disappeared.

The following year, we saw the horrific situation of the tube worms attacking short-necked turtles because of the rising salinity and they were migrating to the freshwater areas between Goolwa and Clayton. Later on, we had the near decision of the flooding of the Lower Lakes with sea water, and I quote from an article in The Australian on 6 August 2008, entitled 'Sea water flooding likely for Murray':

State Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald said yesterday cabinet had signed off on $30 million for site preparation to build a weir walling off the acidifying expanses of Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert as well as the Coorong wetlands at the Murray Mouth. While Ms Maywald insisted that the move was only precautionary, to safeguard Adelaide's drinking water, it signals that the Murray crisis has entered a decisive phase. Construction of the weir at Wellington, above the receding lower lakes, which are being threatened by exposed soil beds turning acidic due to exposure to the air, means they would be transformed from largely freshwater to saltwater ecologies.

Further, it says:

Ms Maywald said acidification would be triggered at negative 1m—

that is below sea level—

occurring next June unless [New South Wales] and Victoria reversed decisions to release reserves into the parched river or rains flushed out the system. Fourth generation Lake Alexandrina fisherman Henry Jones, 65, reacted with dismay to the move yesterday. [He said] 'It is devastating to people down here. You can see it in their eyes…we have been living in dread of this.'

Early in the following year, the federal government stepped in. The environment minister Peter Garrett commissioned an environmental impact study as the South Australian government was preparing to spend $130 million on a weir that was going to become a white elephant. Henry Jones was quoted as saying that he was 'confident the EIS will find against the saltwater option', and he said, 'Salt water will be like an atomic bomb and just kill everything.'

Water returned to the system the following year, and Henry said that extra flows were a godsend but should not weaken resolve for long-term reform to prevent a return to conditions experienced during the worst of the drought, and I quote:

We have to keep looking into the future past these extra flows because if we do not the river will slowly die…It will be like a cancer working its way from the mouth up the river.

There was the book burning of, I think it was called the initial draft plan, that took place in the middle of 2011, and Henry Jones was quoted later that year:

People in the eastern states refuse to accept responsibility for the river. I don't believe it's enough for South Australia. However, I can see if it's too much—

that is, too much water taken away from irrigation—

the eastern states are just going to walk away.

I think he was right in his assessment. Then we ended up with the march to Canberra. I think he articulated it very well in his contribution to an article in the Adelaide Advertiser on 29 May 2012. He said:

Unbelievable pressure has been placed on the authority to come up with a plan that is acceptable to all, and in doing so the environment loses. No stakeholder admits that they are part of the problem, from St George to the Murray Mouth. The finger is always pointed upstream or downstream.

Ain't that the truth! For any of us who go across the border, someone may quietly say to you over a soda water at the bar, 'Why don't you just flood the lakes?'

Henry was a huge advocate that it was a freshwater system and that it should remain that way. He was a realist and he recognised that the River Murray was a working river and therefore that it was no longer pristine, but believed that the environment also deserves its share.

Debate adjourned on motion.

15 October 2014

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 20:34 :55 ): I will be very brief in my summing up, as I outlined the details when I moved the motion. I thank all honourable members for their contributions: the Hon. Kyam Maher, the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. John Gazzola, minister Hunter, the Hon. John Dawkins and the Hon. Rob Brokenshire. I think the number of contributions we have had is telling: almost a third of members of this house have made some contribution to honour the legacy of Mr Henry Jones.

I would also like to acknowledge once again that the motion was instigated in the other place by the member for Hammond, Adrian Pederick, and that we believed it was fitting that Mr Jones also be recognised by the Legislative Council. With those words, I commend the motion to the house and thank members in anticipation of their support.

Motion carried.

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