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Institute of Public Affairs: water « Previous | |Next »
September 12, 2008

The Institute of Public Affairs' September issue of Review has an article by Mary Jo Fisher, a Liberal Senator for South Australia entitled 'Nanny state is a poor guide to policy design.' This article is about individual freedom being restricted by Adelaide's 4 year old backyard water bans.

Fisher argues that these bans are an example of the Rann state government being a nanny state wagging its finger and imposing a ban prohibition or punitive measure on our basic right to choose. Fisher's next argument is that debate about the bans or prohibition becomes a smokescreen for government inaction on what should be the real agenda. She says:

Adelaide's four year-old backyard water bans are a good example. They're unnecessary and don't save water. They cause our communities pain. And they won't help the Murray-Darling River. Even in cities and regional towns which don't rely on the Murray Darling, water restrictions are a cover for lack of genuine infrastructure are a cover for lack of genuine infrastructure planning and government inaction.

I concur with that. The current problems in the Murray-Darling Basin are the result of history of bad management over a long period by the states plus a long drought.

It is the next step Fisher's argument about what constitutes the real agenda that is problematic:

Addressing South Australia's water problems includes separating Adelaide from the Murray and allowing our farmers and river communities full access to to the Murray's available water. Adelaide has a long coastline with consistent winds. Re-using waste water and combing wind energy with desalinisation would afford coastal communities and Adelaide itself access to green and plentiful solution, at a price within our ability to pay.

It is the phrase " and allowing our farmers and river communities full access to the Murray's available water" that is problematic. Good water management in the Murray-Darling Basin requires reduced access--(reducing the over-allocated water licences) to water by irrigators and increased environmental flows for the river. So the Liberal Party, on this account, still resists reducing over -allocated water licences and increasing envirornmental flows to save the lower lakes and Corrong. The River Murray is there for the irrigators. It is their freedom from the nanny state that is paramount.

That anti-environmental position is buried amidst a green rhetoric about human needs

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:59 AM | | Comments (10)


I read Mary Jo Fisher's first speech to the Senate. She replaced Senator Vanstone. Fisher's family background is a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia's wheat belt and her faamily farms in the suth east of South Australia.

On water she says:

No community survives for long without water, and water is a communal asset. As an irrigator on our farming operations, I am acutely aware of its value and the fierceness of the debate about its future. For the first time in our history, we are using almost all of the easily tapped and cheap forms of water. We do have the water to support increased population provided we manage our collection, storage and use efficiently. We are on the way to doing this. Securing supplies for our cities and regional centres goes hand in hand with securing adequate supplies for efficient and responsible irrigation use. With continued application of mind and effort we will substantially improve water use efficiency by redirecting it to higher valued uses and implementing sophisticated recycling and reuse solutions. What we must not do is confuse low water use with efficient water use.

Her speech is all about farming communities. There is no concern in the speech for the river or its wetlands.

Speaking of farming communities, the farming community around Burke are unhappy with the purchase of Toorale station by the Commonwealth and NSW Government's. They see themselves --their irrigation industries--sacrificed for the environment.

Toorale station will become a park or environmental sanctuary but Bourke isn't interested in developing a local tourism industry. They want cotton farming, as they see King Cotton as their lifeblood.

Presumably, Senator Mary Jo Fischer would agree with them.

The federal Coalition has attacked the buyback claiming that would destroy the economy of the rural communities. As expected.

However, what is to stop the water from Toorale Station---the flow of the Warrego River-- being siphoned by downstream irirgators? So there need to be changes to water entitlements along the Darling River.

What is to be done bout cotton growers and other irrigators north of Toorale in Queensland? They've been siphoning off flows to the basin.

peter, you mean like people downstream want vineyards, orchards and such?
I hear SA is up to 11% allocation whilst I'm still on zero in the north. Why isn't that 11% going to straight to the lakes?
Theres a whole heap of natural country around bourke as it is, I doubt calling toorale a sanctuary will be that big a drawcard.

Nan,what about the dairies and pasture irrigators that account for half the water extracted in the Murray. Aren't they siphoning off basin water too? Why is it the northerners that take the heat even though 75% of the water extracted would have never made it to the Murray, let alone the lakes.

there is a need to reduce allocations to irrigators and increase environment flows in the Murray-Darling Basin. Since all the states (including SA) have been unwilling to address the years of mismanagement or agree on water trading, then buyback by the federal government is the only mechanism available.

water trading is the solution you need--you buy the water you need. That means the water cannot be siphoned off in Queensland for private storage.That is a monopoly situation.

there is no defence of the SA Rann Government on this blog. The politics of water in SA is to protect the Riverland irrigators. Most of the water being stored is for Adelaide's drinking water.

The criticism on this blog is that the SA government has done very little to wean Adelaide off River Murray water and has allowed the SA rivers that flow into the River Murray to run dry from over allocation.

The SA Government are hypocrites when it comes to the politics of water.

peter, no problems with water trading, but would be wondering about the $400 million targeted at northern aquisition when there is less than half that available, at present, for the Murray itself(to retire small operators).

I'm not completely aware of Qld water values, but in the northern NSW valleys permanent water entitlement (general, not high security)has been trading at up to $3000/ML, unfortunately we can't make water run up hill from the Murray.

Gary, buy back is no problem in itself, anyone should be able to buy water. The problem as I see it is how much and from where. It's an easy political out to target cotton, and the northern valleys however as far as fixing the murray it is the least feasible water available. The how much is even more erratic, once it was 1500GL req'd according to scientists, then 3000GL according to Mr Howard, and now low and behold the concerned scientists of the wentworth group want 42-53%(my est 5000GL) of entitlement bought back.

My allocation is zero this year(13.5% av over 6 years), how low do you want it to go?

you start by buying out those that want to leave the land--eg. in the Riverland--- on the condition they sell their water licence to the Commonwealth. Many farmers realize that their style of farming is no longer sustainable with less water due to climate change. They do not have the ability to borrow to buy in water.

A lot of the Riverland farmers in SA who want to leave farming are small block citrus growers who want to stay on their land and in their community. We should help them to do so, plus help them to retrain and reskill. That is what Hawke and Keating did with the manufacturing workers in the 1980s when their opening up the economy, create huge unemployment.

Dairy farmers have also been mentioned in this weblog. They use a lot of water to produce a commodity of low value. Their future is one of contraction due to the high cost of water. That's the economics of the situation, however unpalatable it may be to the dairy farmers.

the Wentworth Groups's anlysis of the situation in the Murray Darling Basis is on the right track.

In its submission to the Senate inquiry into the lower lakes of the Murray, the group argued that drought, climate change, and the need for environmental flows would result in a reduction of between 42 and 53 per cent in water left for irrigation.

You argue about the numbers, but the climatic reality is that there is going to be a lot less water in the Murray-Darling Basin. Somthing has to give.

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists solution is for irrigation allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin to be halved.

Their argument that the 10-year water buyback to be brought forward and to take place over the next two years may not be realistic. But their argument that $5.8 billion for infrastructure upgrades to be spent buying back water is. What is the point in upgrading infrastructure when the assets maay become stranded because there is not enough water for irrigation farming to continue.