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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the classic politics of the Murray « Previous | |Next »
April 10, 2008

Kenneth Davidson in The Age puts his finger on the Brack/Brumby Government's long resistance to the national Murray-Darling Basin plan. In doing so he discloses the way that the politics of the River Murray continues to be about protecting the irrigation industry at the expense of the environment.

He states the reality that Adelaide and South Australia's main provincial towns depend on the Murray for most of their water ( a proposed desalination plant will lessen this dependence for Adelaide) and then adds:

Without flushing rains or 200 gigalitres from the Dartmouth Dam on the upper Murray, the water that Adelaide pipes from the Murray below Murray Bridge will be undrinkable. But if the water that is available from Dartmouth is allocated to the environment, it won't be available to irrigators further up the Murray.This explains why the Brumby Government delayed for 15 months signing up to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which is supposed to give ultimate authority for allocation of the water to federal Water Minister Penny Wong. Either the system must get well above average rainfall during the coming winter, sufficient to flush out the lower reaches of the Murray, supply Adelaide and keep irrigators alive or Wong will have to choose between Mildura and Adelaide as to who gets the 200 gigalitres of water held in reserve in the Dartmouth dam.

There you have it.The irrigation industry is fighting to to retain use of all rural water in the name of development, without getting smart and thinking about ways to do more with less. The Brumby government is captured by its irrigation industry, which requires substantial subsidies and protection to survive.

Davidson says that there is no real choice. If the southern river Murray system dies, Mildura and the other irrigators along the southern Murray will die as well. If salt and sulphuric acid damage is limited to Lake Alexandrina, the irrigators and the towns along the southern Murray can be kept on life support until there is a permanent increase in the flow of water into the Murray system.

As Davidson points out the irrigator's argument is that extra water can be be found by spending federal and state billions upgrading irrigation infrastructure to reduce leakage and evaporation, with the irrigators taking half of the water saved. Even the figures that are bandied about for water for the river look dubious. Since the water leakages find their way into the river system, fixing leaks is classic robbing the river to save the irrigators. That is the classic politics of the Murray.

The only money the authority should spend is on the compulsory acquisition of licences within the framework of a sustainable cap on water extraction to restore environmental flows.

Editorials in the AFR continually go about the policy of slugging viable industries to prop up unviable or marginal ones---but they usually mean industry assistance to the manufacturing industry (eg. for green cars) not irrigated agriculture. Yet irrigated agriculture is a classic example of the lack of the reform momentum they go about. What we have here by the Rudd Government is much talk about the talk on reform but little by way of walking the walk.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:51 AM | | Comments (4)


you can see the politics in CoAG's 10 billion Murray-Darling Basin plan. They know about the overallocation problem and that's why they have given the Federal Water Minister the power to impose a tighter cap on water extractions by irrigators. 2011 is when this happens, even though the southern Murray is now on life support.

However, and this is the politics, that cap won't be enforceble until 2019. Victoria will bleed the river's envirornment flows to protect its inefficent irrigators. Its understanding of a sustainable water-sharing regime in the Basin is more water for its irrigators.

With less water the inefficient irrigators need to be squeezed out.

We know that the Murray-Darling Basin was largely developed through damming rivers and encouraging the development of irrigated agriculture on the assumption that there would be lots of rain. The talk was about drought proofing.

We know that the use of rivers for irrigation and water supply has contributed many tens of billions of dollars to Australia’s economy and provides over three million people with water and an economic base. However, we also know that the costs – economic, environmental and social – have been enormous. River and wetland health has declined greatly and present and future generations of Australians are faced with a repair bill of many billions of dollars. Even then, many rivers and wetlands will continue to suffer from moderate to severe degradation.

We currently have a situation where there is not enough water for irrigation.Yearly allocations have been cut back. We know what needs to be done: a reduction in total allocations of water, removal of barriers to urban-rural water trade, and the repurchase of irrigator water entitlements for environmental flows. Prices must play a bigger role in rural and urban Australia in matching demand and supply.

I've been saying this for at least 10 years.

Its been frustrating.

We MUST permamently decrease irrigation usage.
Its wasteful and inefficient economically and environmentally and of very limited economic value.

Had a word to 'some one in the know' last week', a person more knowledgable than all the rest put together.
My lagoon will be empty for at least another 7 years. That will kill it.
Meanwhile COAG et al quiver in fear of the irrigation lobby.

A marvellous commentator, Davidson. And also puts a really good quarterly called "Dissent", which follows the sort of issues quality blogs this one cover. the likes of Marion Sawyer and John Legge, to name just two, feature in the current issue, just out.
And Davidson has been a wake up to PPP's and the like for a good while, also.
It's not until you read papers like the age and smh, even in their current weakened state, ( like their tv brethren/sistern; sbs and abc ), that you realise how badly served places like Adelaide and Perth are served in only having the single tabloid and the tendentious Oz as sources for news and comment.
On the the thread topic, it does seem that having a good swig of vic piss, begins to take on an, ahem, literal meaning?