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CoAG + water: limits of co-operative federalism « Previous | |Next »
March 26, 2008

The word coming from the Rudd Government is that CoAG means business. It will be the reform workhorse of the nation and it will deliver on the reform promises made in December. Just watch this exciting space of co-operative federalism with everybody working together and in such wonderful harmony.

I am watching this space on water and the governance of the Murray-Darling Basin. I do not like what I am seeing, given our history of having taken too much water out of our rivers for too long. I see very little movement towards putting water back into the river soon. That history continues to shape the present.

CoAG.jpg Nicholson

What I am hearing is that Victoria is refusing to sign to any deal that would disadvantage Victorian irrigators. Since any deal is going to involve cutting back on irrigator's entitlements to water due to reduced flows into the Murray, all I see is that Victoria only willing to play ball if it gets its own way. Yet the Brumby Government is willing to take water from its irrigators to ensure that Melbourne's water supply continues.

Oh, I understand that high level talks are taking place amongst senior bureaucrats and ministers and that progress is being made according to Penny Wong, the Federal Water Minister. The progress? States would retain their powers to set yearly water allocations within their borders. So how does that square with the basin wide need for major reductions in water allocations?

It would seem that water and sharing river flows discloses the limits of co-operative federalism have been reached, inspite of all the spin about a deal being close to breaking the Murray deadlock.

Well, a deal has been struck. Victoria keeps control of 50% of its Murray allocations, with current water plans for the state to remain in force until 2019. Victoria will also secure $1 billion in federal funds for the Food Bowl modernisation project across the north of the state.The federal $1 billion would come on top of $1 billion already pledged by the State Government, with water savings from the ambitious scheme to be split equally between Melbourne, farmers and the environment.Victoria would also have a seat at the table of a new body set up to manage the river in the decades to come.

MightMurray.jpg Nicholson

If Victoria has the best and most irrigation system in the nation then why does it need $1 billion to upgrade irrigation in the Goulburn and Murray valleys to prevent leakage from leaks evaporation and other inefficiencies. They held the nation to ransom to get commonwealth money to modernize their ramshackle irrigation system. It's a patchup job that refurbishes old systems that may never meet the demands of modern agriculture in a basin that now averages 37% of its long term average inflows.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:17 AM | | Comments (16)


Rudd is in serious danger of losing credibility over this issue. If he can't pull the states into line on this it wont look good for that cooperation that we heard so much about before the election.
That first domino is wobbling again.

it looks as if the commonwealth has bought off Victoria to achieve a deal. How does that hefty price tag sit with all the rhetoric about cutting government expenditure?

If there is a 37% reduction of inflows in the Murrray Darling Basin, then a lot of the irrigation infrastructure is not going to be needed. It's useless, So why refurbish it, especially when climate change is going to reduce the inflows even more.

most of the ageing irrigation in Victoria's food bowl north consists of open irrigation channels. I presume they will be covered with 50% of the water saved flowing back to the river. I think that they over-estimate the water savings that can be achieved.

The $1 billion is the commonwealth effectively subsidizing the irrigation industry to get more water for the river. The irrigators get 50% of the water saved from the refurbishing. So we have an expansion of the irrigation industry with less runoff into the river.

Victoria also retains 50% of of its share of Murray inflows until 2019 despite the recent reduction in inflows and from future climate change. Victoria, in other words, in demanding that current sharing arrangements be maintained despite less inflow, is trying to drought proof its irrigation areas. The old policies--"drought proof"--- still apply.

Arent they fortunate that the last government left them in a position that they could throw money at things.

Brumby's interview last night sounded very much as though he was saying Vic was signing up on the condition that nothing changes except we get a billion dollars for signing up. I thought I'd misunderstood but from what you're saying here that appears to be the case.

I thought that it was the boom that produced the budget surplus not the good goverance of Costello being frugal with the public's money.

it sure looks that way doesn't it. Brumby sure aint' talking about buying up irrigation entitlements to reduce over allocation. He held a gun to the nation's head and held out his hand.


So do the people of S.A feel let down that Rudd has side stepped the murray?

Has S.A Labor become wide mouthed frogs?

I'm in Perth so it is hard to judge. From what I can make out some are pleased that the delays are over and the deal has been signed. They expect more water to flow to the lower lakes and Corrong.

This is unlikely as the figures being bandied about re water savings are inflated at best, fictitious at worst. The river hasn't flowed to the sea since 2006 and as a consequence the lower Murray lakes are drying out. There is a danger the exposed lake soils will release toxic sulphuric acid to the surface.When the rains do fall it is it is captured by thousands of dams and weirs, then allocated to irrigation industries. The river gets very little and around 90% of wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin have been destroyed.

Others can see through the rhetoric and see that Victoria has got a billion dollars without having to reform the way it does its agriculture. For some reason the Bracks/Brumby Government had been captured by the NFF in Victoria and so adopted the 'protect the irrigation industry at all cost' stance.

My own view is that it is good that a single authority will be responsible for securing a healthy Murray.Whether that will mean more water for the river is a debatable point.

The Age editorial simply repeats the Vic Government line:

It is to Mr Brumby's credit that, by continuing the hard line of his predecessor, Steve Bracks, Victoria will end up significantly better off than it would have been had it capitulated on the terms originally proposed by the Howard government. Instead of directly ceding state and water rights to the Commonwealth, Victoria has maintained its constitutional rights, retaining its rights to 50% of the Murray's water allocations to 2019, with the right to challenge (but not to change) decisions made by the new federal authority that will supervise the amounts of water taken from the river system. And that's not all: the state is to receive $1 billion of federal money for the second stage of its food bowl modernisation project, which is good news for a proportion of the state's drought-stricken irrigators. Victoria's success brings another bonus: recognition that the state has a strong record on water trading and reform, with a vision that extends beyond those on offer in NSW and Queensland.

They do not see the flaw in the rhetoric. If the state has such a strong record on water trading and reform, then why do they need $1 billion to repair their leaky and out of date irrigation infrastructure.

If they are as good as they say they are their irrigation infrastructure should have been modernized a decade ago.

Paul Sinclair in The Age So what needs to be done?

First, Climate Change and Water Minister Penny Wong should continue to lead the states towards buying back the legal rights to water that the river needs. Buying back water from willing sellers is widely considered the most cost-effective and equitable way of reviving the river.

He's dead right.It is the key issue. It is resisted by the irrigation lobby and state governments. Sinclair then says:
Second, we need to build the health of our river systems so they can withstand the shocks of climate change. Climate change will slash water availability in south-eastern Australia. But under Victoria's unsustainable water-sharing arrangements the environment will lose twice as much water as irrigators when climate change starts to bite. The Victorian Government has unfairly handballed the risks of climate change onto the Murray.

So true. The river suffers under Brumby's refusal to buy back over allocated water entitlements.

Then do you have to conclude that the whole thing was a 'look at us being federally cooperative' stunt? That would be a fairly studid thing to do. I imagine Turnbull would only have to wait a year or two to point out how ineffective the whole deal was when the river keeps dying.

What actually got achieved here? For the river, I mean.

Its obviously a furphy that there is a shortage of water. Clearly there is buckets of water to spare.
Not only did I get an invitation from the SA govt. to apply to be allowed to use the water I had to forgo last year, in this current year, an effective doubling of my quota, but I have now been informed that I can trade in extra water without having to go through a 'full technical assessment'. Although I'm not allowed to have more than 100% of my entitlement I can still buy more water, add that to carry over [that which I didn't use last year] add to my current quota and Bob's your uncle I can use double /triple what I used last year.
The actual heading of the memo sent to me is "Extra Murray Water can be bought for carry over". [I can even buy it from interstate].
Oodles of water around.
What shortage?

Perhaps what played out at COAG was a little bit of theatre.
The mexican stand off looked more like a wave to me. It will be the W.a premiers turn to look butch next time.

So what is the difference between an authority and a committee?
A committee can be blamed for taking too long but not for inaction. While an authority can be blamed for taking too long to make a decision, failing to implement that decision and also for making the wrong decision.

Eventually it will rain.

re your question --'what actually got achieved there for the river'. It is national or basin wide governance.