The government says it will convene a meeting of state and federal stakeholders over the dead fish in NSW’s Darling River as Labor leader Bill Shorten called for an emergency task force.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says he will seek agreement from the states to use $5 million from Murray Darling Basin funds for a basin-wide strategy to look after native fish.
“Whilst the states own resources including water, it’s important we work together and do all that we can,” Mr Littleproud said in a statement on Monday.
In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Shorten asked for thorough and immediately action to address the mass fish deaths in the Darling River at Menindee.
“If this ecological disaster has been worsened by human activity, we must quickly get to the bottom of how it took place,” Mr Shorten wrote.
The federal opposition wants the task force to investigate how and why the fish died, including the potential impact of agricultural chemicals like fertiliser.
Mr Shorten also wants it to look at whether water diversions or management in the Murray-Darling system made the disaster worse.
Scientists argue mismanagement of the river system is to blame but the NSW government insists the devastating drought gripping the state is a key factor.
“We need to methodically identify the precise causes of this disaster and then act on them immediately,” Mr Shorten wrote.
“Drought is a natural event. Blue green algae outbreaks and fish kills of this scale are not natural events.”
Mr Littleproud said he had asked the Murray Darling Basin Authority to convene a meeting of state and federal water managers and environmental water holders this week.
“We’ve also offered NSW, which controls water flows, any assistance it requires as it responds to these incidents, and to rebuild fish stocks when it rains,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The reality is we’re in a serious drought and the only silver bullet is rain.”