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Filing from the front

Hugh Stevenson Roberton – or “Peter Snodgrass”.
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HUGH Stevenson Roberton is arguably the most remarkable person who has written for The Land – a farmer and farm leader, columnist, author, soldier, Menzies government minister and Australia’s first ambassador to Ireland.

And for most of his stellar career he kept writing his fortnightly articles for The Land under the pseudonym “Peter Snodgrass”, the name of a character in a play written by his father, Sir Hugh Roberton, a famous Scottish choral music composer and conductor.

Roberton had carried his Hermes typewriter in a metal box during his stint as an anti-tank gunner with the 9th Division in the Middle East during the Second World War so he could keep writing his columns for The Land.

His commanding officer turned a blind eye when he tossed away his gas mask and spare pair of boots so he could carry his typewriter, nor did he ever have any problems with wartime censors.

* Read more about some of The Land’s legendary columnists in our 100-page Centenary liftout free inside the January 27 issue.

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Dairy despair at Coles cut

THE Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO) has hit out at the decision by supermarket giant Coles to cut the price of its ‘supermarket brand’ milk, warning that the move will place significant financial strain and pressure on already stressed farming families.
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Earlier today, Coles announced that it would be taking advantage of the earnings downturn faced by rival Woolworths to launch a heavily discounted milk offer to tempt shoppers into its supermarkets.

QDO President Brian Tessmann said dairy farmers across the country woke this morning to the unpleasant news, and said that milk prices are under unsustainable downward pressure from the retailers.

Coles will terminate its Smart Buy milk brand and reduce the price of its house brand milk to become its new flagship offering.

The price of a Coles brand two-litre carton of lite milk will come down to $2, a 33 per cent discount in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Coles full-cream milk will also be cut down to $2.

“We are now facing the bleak prospect of retail milk prices reaching a point that is unsustainable for the milk value chain. This will flow back through the processing sector and ultimately to farmers,” said Mr Tessmann.

“It is kicking family farmers when they are down. This is happening at a time when the industry is battling the devastation of the massive Queensland floods.

“These floods are taking a heavy financial and emotional toll on farmers, and for Coles to give farmers this announcement on Australia Day is cruel and insensitive. We want our farmers to have confidence in the future and to be rebuilding their businesses after the flood,” said Mr Tessman.

The QDO said that what is ultimately a publicity ploy from Coles will mean farmers will ultimately be paying for the advertising bill.

Mr Tessman said that Coles’ assertion that the price drop would not affect milk processors and dairy farmers was simply wrong.

“We know from a recent Senate Inquiry that the growing trend toward supermarket brand milk is putting a squeeze on the value chain and ultimately the farmer. This price drop will increase the price difference between large retailer ‘supermarket brand’ milk and milk processor branded milk. So of course shoppers will opt for supermarket brand milk and, with that, lower returns go to processors and that will flow on to the farm gate.

“We know that already the price differential between supermarket-brand and branded milk sucks about $90 million from the value chain in Queensland alone every year,” said Mr Tessman.

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Swan opts to fight states, not the miners

Wayne Swan.This time last year, Wayne Swan had spent his holidays reading a top-secret copy of the Henry review, which urged a 40 per cent tax on the mining industry.
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A year on, with one prime minister removed after taking on the miners, the Treasurer’s holiday reading was a far cry from Dr Henry’s tome.

Shortly before Christmas, the former BHP chairman Don Argus handed Swan a report outlining the much watered-down resource rent tax, which has been welcomed by the big miners.

But although he now has much of the industry on side, Swan’s quest to extract more tax from the mining industry is far from over.

After what he admits was a ”bruising” encounter with mining heavyweights in 2010, Swan has effectively swapped a fight with the miners for a stoush with the states.

He is now pleading with Queensland and Western Australia to cap future mining royalties to keep the industry competitive – and the states are having none of it.

Swan’s decision to take on the states raises questions about just how powerful the mining heavyweights have become, with the industry expected to resume hostilities if the government cannot get the states on side.

Making matters more complex, Swan’s showdown with the states comes amid growing evidence Australia should be saving more of the proceeds from the once-in-a-century resources bonanza.

In the turbulent weeks after Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd, quelling the mining industry’s anger was a top priority in Canberra.

She largely achieved this in early July, signing a breakthrough agreement with the big three – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata – to soften the tax considerably.

Rather than the 40 per cent tax proposed by Henry, it was agreed miners would pay effective tax rates of 22.5 per cent and enjoy generous deductions. Miners called off their anti-government ad campaign, and restarted work on shelved projects worth billions to the economy.

But although Gillard’s deal with the miners was hailed as a smart political move at the time, it now looks like a temporary solution.

In the secret July negotiations, the boss of BHP, Marius Kloppers, insisted that all state royalties – including future increases – would be refunded by the federal government.

Canberra later hinted it might not credit all future royalties because this would amount to writing states a blank cheque, but Argus’s report affirmed that all future royalties should be refunded.

Swan is widely expected to adopt this recommendation, and has already called on states to promise they won’t increase royalties.

However, the request has been met with vocal opposition from the premiers of Queensland and Western Australia, setting the scene for heated negotiations this year.

The floods – expected to slash Queensland’s royalty revenue – add another layer of complexity. Nevertheless, Swan has elected to fight the states rather than risk provoking the miners. His willingness to do so raises questions about just how powerful the mining industry has become.

The opposition’s spokesman on mining, Ian Macfarlane, says it is now clear the government rushed to sign a deal without fully understanding the consequences. While he opposes the tax in principle, Macfarlane also recognises the power the Big Three held over government.

”I suspect that the government has got itself so far in that they will have to bow down to the mining companies. They got skinned and that’s a fact,” he says.

”The mining companies have achieved the effective abolition of state royalties.” Macfarlane doesn’t blame the miners for this – instead pointing the finger at Canberra’s failure to consult with the industry and states before it announced the original 40 per cent tax.

On the government’s side, the Labor senator Doug Cameron is even more frank about how miners have thrown their weight around this year. ”I think the behaviour of the miners is the most overt case of big business using their power and privileged place in society to protect their own individual interests,” Cameron says.

”This is going to be something that is debated for many years, in relation to how you can ensure the national interest is placed before the interests of mega-rich mining magnates.” More sympathetic observers, however, say the miners were able to make a convincing argument against paying more tax because the public identified with the industry.

A former head of the Minerals Council, David Buckingham, says miners benefited from a perception that the industry had been an important factor in Australia weathering the global financial crisis. Over the previous decade, he says, the industry had also remade its public image around its handling of environmental and Aboriginal issues.

”There’s been an evolution in the position of the industry. I don’t think it’s simply been a case of a big ugly industry using its muscle,” says Buckingham, who supported the concept of a super profits tax.

Whatever the reasons for the government’s backdown, the miners’ strong influence over government will linger.

If Canberra cannot reach a deal with the states, miners have made it clear they will consider restarting their campaign of destabilisation.

In the weeks before Christmas, the boss of Xstrata Coal, Peter Freyberg, repeated his warning that the company would review $20 billion in planned projects if the government failed to refund all royalties.

Indeed, some official sources suggest the mining companies are deliberately seeking to exploit the government’s razor-thin majority in the lower house in anticipation of the debate heating up.

Small miners – who remain deeply opposed to the tax – would only need to convince a few rural independents to oppose the tax to defeat it. Coalition senators are now leading an inquiry which has aired small miners’ concerns, and is scrutinising the government’s deal with the big three.

In spite of this tension between the government and smaller miners over the tax, there is growing economic evidence that now is the right time for a meaningful resource rent tax. In November, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the government’s mining tax was too narrow – and it should tax more products than iron ore, coal and gas.

While it supported the tax overall, the OECD said this focus on only parts of the resources sector could distort investment and would hurt its ability to raise revenue.

The governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, has also reminded the government that with a once-in-a-century mining boom gathering pace, now could be a good time to increase public sector saving.

In a November speech, he suggested a ”stabilisation fund” that could offset some of the volatility of a commodities boom led by China and India. Stevens didn’t mention the mining tax – but it’s increasingly clear the watered-down MRRT won’t be taking much heat out of the mining boom.

An economist at the Grattan Institute, Saul Eslake, is blunt when asked if the tax could help deal with some of the challenges of the two-speed economy. ”No, because it was not intended to, and now it would seem there are so few companies that are going to pay it,” Eslake says.

Even among companies which will pay the tax – it only applies to those earning more than $50 million a year – there are doubts it will raise the revenue Canberra claims.

According to official estimates, it will raise $7.4 billion, down from the previous $10.5 billion predicted before the election and $12 billion under Rudd’s super profits tax.

The government says the latest revision was driven by the strong Australian dollar, but analysts say the forecast was more likely slashed after officials consulted with companies about how the tax would be paid in practice.

And with each downgrade in how much revenue it will raise, the government is also pushing the friendship with the Greens, needed to pass it through the Senate in 2011.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, sent the government a reminder in late December that his support is not guaranteed. He described the tax as a ”patched-up deal between the government and the mining barons”. He prefers the 40 per cent tax favoured by Rudd, and it is not clear whether he will support the mineral resource rent tax.

Cobbling together support from Brown, miners and the premiers of mining boom states won’t be easy. But this is the task facing Swan if he is to make the mining tax a reality.

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US approves E15 fuel use

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced the approval of E15 for use in vehicles built from 2001 to 2006 on Friday.
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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says the decision was a result of Department of Energy completing tests showing that E15 did not pose a problem in new cars and light trucks.

Groups such as Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association praised the move as did several others, while other groups were less enthusiastic and condemned the action.

The US National Corn Growers Association was one of the organizations that fell in the pro column. NCGA Chairman Darrin Ihnen called the announcement welcome news and said that the organization was pleased with the agency’s conclusion that the use of higher blends of ethanol in vehicles is safe.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, was also pleased. He called the decision the right conclusion and said this also helps address the ethanol blend wall by providing greater market access for the ethanol industry and for farmers who produce clean, renewable energy solutions for our country.

Several politicians also voiced their support including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

However, coming down against the decision were a number of livestock organizations including the US National Pork Producers Association.

Randy Spronk, chairman of NPPC’s Environment Committee, said, “It’s very disappointing that the administration made this decision given the rising price of corn and the lower estimate for this year’s corn harvest that recently was announced.”

Another opponent of the decision was the US National Chicken Council, which called it “another giveaway to ethanol interests” and shows EPA will not balance broad national interests on the issue.

“E15 may be good for ethanol producers and corn farmers, but it is clearly detrimental to all other interested parties,” said Bill Roenigk, senior vice president and chief economist for NCC. “To the extent EPA and the ethanol industry actually manage to force more ethanol into the nation’s motor gasoline, they will put even more pressure on the already very tight supply of corn.”

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GRDC Qld Updates confront global challenges

QUEENSLAND grain advisers and growers will gain a better insight into their role in the global soft commodities trade at the upcoming series of Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Updates.
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Emeritus Professor Gordon MacAulay, principle economist at Better Research and Innovation (BRI Australia), will present the latest information on Australia’s place in the global wheat market and what international customers are saying about Australian wheat and its performance at the three Updates to be held in Queensland in coming weeks.

His presentation will feature at the events to be held at the Miles Memorial Club on March 1, the Goondiwindi Community Centre on March 2-3, and at Nindigully Hall on March 4.

The Updates will feature packed programs focussing on innovative responses to the challenges of modern farming, including disease risks for 2011 in the wake of the wet summer; the latest research into nematodes; and how to make more efficient use of nitrogen applications. Local issues relevant to each of the host regions will also be addressed.

GRDC northern panel chairman James Clark, said the three Updates to be held in southern Queensland during March would bring growers and advisers together with researchers.

“The GRDC updates deliver new data, practical advice and locally-focussed information to advisers and growers, with the agendas developed specifically in response to feedback from grains advisers,” Mr Clark said.

“It is a chance to understand how research levies are being invested by GRDC, which manages a northern region-specific research program of more than $25 million per year.

“This research is not only scientifically valid, but responsive to current needs and issues of producers, and is directly influenced by local and regional grower priorities.

“This is a prime opportunity for grains advisers to tap in to the latest research that will keep their advice at the cutting edge – benefiting their clients’ businesses by boosting productivity and sustainability.”

Some of the topics featured at the Updates include:

Cereal diseases – 2010 saw high levels of foliar and cereal head diseases in many parts of the northern grains region. What are the implications for 2011 and how can the risks best be managed. (Greg Platz, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI), and Steve Simpfendorfer, Industry & Investment NSW (I&I NSW).Insights into nematode management – many growers have them but are unaware. Picking the right cereal variety can improve profit by a staggering $500/ha. (Steve Simpfendorfer, I&I NSW; Kirsty Owen, Jason Sheedy & Roslyn Reen, DEEDI).Chickpea disease risks in 2011 – the wet end to 2010 and the outbreaks of ascochyta and botrytis grey mould will have implications for 2011 variety and paddock selection. (Kevin Moore, I&I NSW; Mal Ryley, DEEDI).Getting the right N strategy for 2011 after a big year in 2010 – How much N did big pulse crops contribute? Options and risks when getting seasonally responsive N into the system. (David Herridge, I&I NSW; David Lester, DEEDI).Managing problem weeds like feathertop Rhodes grass and glyphosate resistance – What’s happening, how effective are the different control options and strategies to assist management. (Various speakers at Goondiwindi and Nindigully)To register contact John Cameron or Erica McKay on 02 9482 4930 or email [email protected]南京夜网419论坛 . For details of the agendas for each Update or for more information, visit 梧桐夜网grdc南京夜网419论坛/updatedates

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Bligh eyes $100,000 cut-off for relief recipients

QUEENSLAND Premier Anna Bligh has acknowledged widespread “confusion” in the community over how money raised from the flood appeal will be distributed.
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Ms Bligh said today she hoped the second round of payments from the appeal funds would be made available to flood victims with an annual income of up to $100,000, but this would depend on how much money was ultimately raised.

Means testing on flood relief payments has come under fire in recent days, with the state opposition attacking a $48,400 eligibility limit for couples seeking a $5000 state taxpayer-funded grant to home owners to restore essential utilities.

The first payments from the $168 million floods appeal fund – $2000 for adults and $1000 for children who were directly affected – will not be means tested and will start arriving in bank accounts this week.

However, Ms Bligh said an income cut-off would probably be needed for the next round of payments and the exact level would depend on how much money was ultimately raised.

“The Victorian bushfire appeal had a means test. Cyclone Larry’s appeal had a means test. And the trigger was around the $100,000 income mark. That’s where I would hope we would land,” she said.

A decision on means testing for the second round of appeal fund payments would be made in coming weeks, she said.

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said $100,000 would be a good cut-off.

But he called on the government to broaden its taxpayer-funded means-tested grants, too, as many earned too much to access them.

Ms Bligh said the federal government had developed the formulas for means-tested payments, and accused the opposition leader of “causing mischief” over the issue.

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Ludwig encourages Aussies to buy local

THIS Australia Day, the minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, is encouraging consumers to support local farmers and buy Australian produce.
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“I would like to congratulate our retailers who are getting behind flood affected farmers by stocking blemished fruit on supermarket shelves,” Minister Ludwig said.

“This is heartening news for farmers and primary producers who have been hit particularly hard in recent weeks.

“While there are widespread reports of damage to crops and horticulture, much of the winter crop has been harvested and the outlook for the coming year remains positive.

“In the short term some fruit and vegetables being sold may not look as good as they usually do, but they’re still nutritious and good to eat. Retailers will only sell foods that are safe to be consumed.

“I would encourage Australian consumers to help our farmers and primary producers get back on their feet by buying Australian grown fruit and vegetables.”

In his capacity as Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery, Minister Ludwig is touring Toowoomba, the Darling Downs and South West this week with Queensland Reconstruction Authority chair, Major General Mick Slater.

In Toowoomba, Minister Ludwig and Major General Slater met with the Toowoomba Regional Council to discuss reconstruction of the local community.

“The people of Toowoomba are continuing to clean up flood affected homes and workplaces,” Minister Ludwig said.

“I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the enormous generosity of the people here and their willingness to help others in need.

“Toowoomba was hit particularly hard by the floodwaters and there’s no doubt, given the size of the disaster, the rebuilding effort will take some time.

“The Gillard Government is here for the long term and we will continue to work closely with the Queensland Government to deliver assistance to those people most in need.

“We are committed to providing funding to assist communities like Toowoomba to rebuild infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and schools.”

The Minister and Major General Slater will attend Dalby’s Australia Day Breakfast at Thomas Jack Park from 7am on 26 January 2011.

For information about Commonwealth Government assistance for flood victims go to 梧桐夜网disasterassist.gov419论坛 .

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Dorpers/White Dorpers join forces

A MAJOR step forward for the Australian prime lamb and cleanskin sheep industries has taken place with the establishment of a new Australian Dorper/White Dorper Association (ADWDA).
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This body has been set up to have national representation and a core focus on the commercial sheep industry.

Speaking on behalf of the inaugural board of the ADWDA, president Neil Gadsden, Victoria said, “The growth in the Dorper and White Dorper breeds has been exceptional, but it is now time to take them forward, beyond individual stud breeder interests to a united group encompassing the total sheep industry chain.

“We see this association being a real paddock to plate organisation, representing all facets of the industry, whether they be producers, processors, marketers, retailers or consumers.”

“This commercial focus and representation, plus continual interchange of information and ideas will keep breeders informed and focused on producing the type of Dorpers required by the commercial industry and consumers.

“Australia’s history is littered with breeds of livestock that have fallen by the wayside because they did not have a wide commercial and national focus,” Mr Gadsden said.

He stressed that stud breeder members must strive to continually improve the carcase attributes, performance levels and ease of management characteristics that have made the Dorper breeds so successful in a wide variety of environments in this country, but especially in arid, low rainfall areas.

The breeds have succeeded where others have struggled due to attributes such as non selective grazing, doing ability in all conditions, low maintenance, non seasonal joining, high fertility, low birth weights, ability to rejoin during lactation, excellent carcase quality and yield.

Mr Gadsden said these attributes make the Dorper breeds ideal for use as either self replacing flocks, or in a traditional terminal composite role.

Mr Gadsden encouraged people interested in the Dorper and White Dorper breeds to view the new Association website ( australiandorper南京夜网 ) for updated information, or to contact one of the inaugural board members.

He indicated the current board was primarily a steering committee for the first 12 months, but amongst its objectives would be the setting up of information field days, working on quality guidelines and moving towards the establishment of continual supply channels of Dorper lamb to consumers.

Mr Gadsden explained that the registration procedures for stud members of the new Australian Association were being radically simplified. Stud rams would now be the only remaining group of animals requiring compulsory registration, with the decision to register stud ewes being optional for seedstock members.

He said the ADWDA would also set up an Appendix grading-up register that will greatly assist some breeders to become involved in seedstock production.

“There is enough carcase data around nowadays to verify that Dorpers produce as good a quality lamb as you can get. We are in the business of getting a quality product off our properties as soon as possible and we passionately believe the Dorper breeds can do this in a terminal sire situation better than all other breeds.

However for those wanting all the other benefits Dorpers offer in a self replacing flock, they can start to get Dorper production and management advantages at the F2 stage,” Mr Gadsden said.

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Outback trek to help fund flying doctors

Terry Clark and Max Hutchins have been preparing the car for the four-state trek. Photo: AMY GRIFFITHSA Dubbo man is preparing to travel almost 4000 kilometres across the outback in a modified 1964 EH Holden painted bright purple and yellow for charity.
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It’s the 10th time the intrepid soul has made the journey through some of the least populated parts of Australia to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

Terry Clark has raised $276,000 for the 22nd “Outback Car Trek” which starts in Dubbo on June 5 and finishes at Uluru seven days later.

Mr Clark knows the value of the RFDS after spending many years managing cattle stations in central Queensland.

“The RFDS was the only source of medical support for me and my family in the bush,” he said.

The passionate trekker endeavours to raise a huge $300,000 for the Dubbo RFDS.

Two new Beechcraft Super King Air aircraft fitted out with state of the art medical equipment now operate at Dubbo RFDS base thanks to the generous support of this event.

About 2,000 aircraft movements are operated from the Dubbo base each year.

The RFDS began as a dream of the late Rev. John Flynn, who had a vision of ensuring access to health care for the people of Outback Australia.

In 1928 the service treated 225 patients, today it transports over 750 patients a day- that’s 225 patients before lunchtime.

The trek sponsored by the Daily Liberal will start in Dubbo and travel to Tilpa, Noccundra, Birdsville, Marree, Coober Pedy, Mt Dare and finish at Uluru.

“The rally raises in excess of $1.2 million each year and over 20 years has raised $15.7 million for the RFDS,” Mr Clark said.

“We are $24,000 short of our $300,000 target so we appreciate any donations people would like to make,” he said.

Mr Clark’s EH Holden – ‘car 138’ – decorated with two giant giraffes will join 100 classic cars including Volkswagons, Fords, and Chevrolets, making the trek.

The only condition is the car must be older than 1971 and capable of making the 3800-kilometre journey.

“The car is being modified at the moment, it has different parts from a variety of cars,” he said. “The trek is amazing, I love the cold, frosty mornings, the dry dust billowing behind you and the amazing variation of scenery.

“I pledged to myself that when my business was in a position to buy a car then I would, that was nine years ago, it’s my 10th year doing the trek but my ninth year in my own car.”

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’93 flood levels on the way

AN imminent peak in the River Murray will threaten South Australian towns with 1992-93 flood levels, and more is on the way.
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But the Department for Water’s Murray Darling Basin operations manager Andrew Beal said river levels were likely to drop before water from the Queensland and Victorian floods arrived.

Recent updates from the department predicted peak flows of between 65,000-75,000 megalitres per day across the State border in late January to mid-February but a flow advice update issued on Friday has upgraded the flow to 90,000ML a day.

The 1992-93 flood peak saw about 93,000ML per day enter the State and, while little damage was caused in the Murraylands, several shacks and low-lying areas were inundated.

Mr Beal said the State was looking at a repeat of 1992-93 but current conditions were not likely to push flows much over 90,000ML/day.

“(The Queensland and Victorian floods) will extend the period of high flow but not the peak flow,” he said.

He said shackowners should prepare for inundation in coming weeks if their properties were affected by floods such as those in the early 1990s, but more major rain would be needed in the southern basin before a major flood risk emerged in the Lower Murray.

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