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

water « Previous | |Next »
October 24, 2008

A few days ago Paul Walter commented

On another issue, sad this deafening silence throughout media and blog universe in the wake of this week's "4 Corners" of the ongoing water pork-barrel debacle.

True. It seemed to slip under the radar, or the bridge, or down the plughole, or whatever.

The programme raised a lot of issues that have been discussed at some length in the blogosphere which media doesn't do all that well, bringing together a range of perspectives. It's not too far fetched to say that the blogosphere had a better idea of what the consequences of buy backs might be than the government did.

Today tigtog over at LP mentioned it in the context of Senate Estimates Committees, pointing out that the beneficiaries are irrigators at the expense of towns which rely on local farming communities. Some of those communities have the option of applying local pressure for more sustainable practices, but that doesn't seem to be a topic of much interest. This is Australia, after all.

It was also raised by some of the blogocrats on an open thread

TB Queensland:

…did you watch 4 Corners last night - Penny Wong buying up riverside properties - a $24 million property sight unseen…

…killing towns along the river with no support after their farming communities sell water rights back to the government - need a bit more thought into infrastructure before the buying begins IMO…

Sight unseen is right, some interviewees suggested that the volumes of water so purchased were ridiculously overstated. In theory the promised volumes should materialise next time the flood plains do a bit of water catching, but in reality there's so much being diverted by anyone with a decent shovel that capacity on gigantic properties has more to do with wishful thinking than anything else.

Human dividend responded:

I saw it. Seemed to me that some of the biggest complainants were the ones who’d borrowed/invested $100,000,000 on h2o licences; personally I can’t sympathise. The most alarming thing, for me, was the gigantic artificial storages in your state TB & the fact that new developments were being approved! Who the hell was that Qld minister for (?) with the jowls & the arrogance, a contemptable creature who wasn’t convincing to say the least??? I thought Wong made a good point when pressed by the interviewer about why such money was being given as compensation to those who’d caused the problem to begin with..she said “so what’s the alternative?”…or something to that effect.

The 'ones who'd borrowed/invested' refers to one bloke who claimed to be saving the viability of the town, but it's also one hell of a business opportunity.

New developments are still being approved in Qld, and the arrogant, jowly fellow thought that was justified on grounds along the lines of Why should Queenslanders miss out on the action everyone else is getting?


Yeah even their Labor State colleagues are screwing the Labor Feds. The Queensland State government sold lots of additional water rights to farmers they knew were on the Federal government’s hit list for buy outs.

So much for a new era of cooperation between federal and state governments.

Other stand outs were the number of people who pointed out that it won't benefit the river system because for every buy back there are thousands downstream with channels, pumps and buckets at the ready. And these guys should know - a lot of them have been doing it themselves for years. It's something of a standing joke. Sure it's naughty, but what are they going to do? Arrest us all? Take away our shovels?

But the eye popper at my house was how little Ms Wong seemed to know about what was going on around the Qld/NSW border region. Maybe she knows a little more now, assuming she watched Four Corners.

| Posted by Lyn at 4:01 PM | | Comments (16)


I saw the 4 Corners program.It showed that the big irrigators were utterly opposed to water reform and had no interest in restoring environmental flows. It also confirmed that the Queensland Government has yet to realize that it is part of the Murray Darling Basin, that it is still caught up in development,and has little interest in sustainable agriculture.

Give Wong her due---she has begun to buy back the over allocated water licences.

I think you're wrong about Qld's understanding of where it fits in. I think the Qld Government knows exactly how it's part of the system, but plans to get the most out of whatever is on offer. Regardless of the rhetoric, sustainable is still a dirty word up here. Joh lives, regardless of what Brisbane urbanites might think.

"Give Wong her due---she has begun to buy back the over allocated water licences."

True. As she said, there's not much alternative. I came away from it thinking that a takeover of the whole system isn't such a bad idea, but that's countered by limited understanding of what's going on in real life. For example, how would anything realistically be policed? Still, I expected she'd have a better handle on the details, some quite significant, than she seemed to on Four Corners.

I think Qld Labor has orchestrated the laying of 32,000 water pipes for its water grid.
They should be applauded for their efforts.

gary, big(or small) irrigators are not opposed to water reform, and they will most likely be the beneficiaries of such. Either they sell to govt and not be out of pocket-realising capital gains or retain their licences when others have sold, gaining reliability. What they are opposed to is politisised spending, cotton being an easy target. Want water for wetlands- no problem, but first establish what those wetlands encompass, how much they need, and the outcomes expected. Is $400 million to breed 200000 more ibis or feed 200000 cattle? It has been more than obvious to irrigators that this has not been thoroughly planned. The notion that water buybacks in the north will fix the Murray is beyond a joke - one that Ms Wong is well aware of.

The issue that many miss is we like living in our country towns, love our work and actually do something useful for the world.
Until a severe drought in 1994/95 there was a high level of encouragement from govt for irrigation development. Irrigators, even those who have invested $100 million or so, have done so in good faith, and for the betterment of Australia via their local communities. Communities that we don't wish to disintegrate.

I find it sad that those who have had no involvement with such communities, have no local knowledge, nor real knowledge of the rivers and water- deign to critisise those that do.

Well, there it is.
The two people who I would have most expected to have watched 4 Corners have comments up.
It's ugly what clout vested interests have over the community good in this country.
You guys are worth a hundred of the rest of them and it makes it a little less painful.
The ALP performance on enviro and social issues in general has been abysmal. They are so timid, it makes an adult weep.
Just a while ago reading a nasty report about violence down in Tassie and elsewhere something about the infatuation Gillard and Rudd have with the NY Bloomberg educational system in the USA.
The dumbing down and "harmonisation" of Australia talked about re things like the AUSFTA continues apace.
Yet where is the alternative?
I watched Conroy in action tonight on Latteline and the only performance more abysmal came from that crackpot he was debating, Brandis ( unless you include the feeble effort of Sales).

That much is true, but the total water management strategy also includes keeping dam builders in work for no good reason, and over or under allocating on a whim.

if the Qld Government knows exactly how it's part of the Murray-Darling Basin and that sustainablity is still a dirty word in that part of basin, then Queensland is part of the problmen not the solution.

did you actually watch the the 4 Corners programme--Buying Back the River?

There, was a discussion about the decline of the Coorong and the same thing unfolding in the Lower Bidgee; issues on the Lower Lachlan, the Macquarie Marshes is in terrible trouble; there are problems in the Gwydir Wetlands, and similarly with the Narran Lakes and the Condamine-Balonne.

Returning water to the river to restore the system's wetlands hits the problem of 2,000 kilometres of channels and levee banks on the flood plain that move water for irrigation, for crops and for grazing land. The construction of the banks and channels began in the 1980s, most of it put in place by the flourishing cotton industry.The New South Wales Government said in July that no new channels or banks can be dug out on the flood plain but most of the existing ones will be authorized.

As Richard Kingsford observed the biggest issue is that, when we start to buy back water in these river systems we cannot be sure that the water that’s been bought back for the environment is doing the best good and is not actually being extracted for irrigation or some other use.

As far as I can see, all of the states are part of the problem.

nan, better than that- I was on it.

Yes the Maquarie Marshes are in such trouble, only waist deep in the worst series of years for the Maquarie river. The "propoganda" block looked a treat too.
I would ask you to take particular note that the Gwydir wetlands were not shown at all, presumably as they have benefited from environmental flows earlier this year. Unlike the Maquarie Marshes the Gwydir wetlands are all privately owned, and a fair percentage(sorry, no-one has established accurate/any figures) is now dryland cultivation. The problem as I see it for the Gwydir in particular is that the call is for more water for the wetlands, but the majority of the floodplains have had a plough through it. What are we then trying to achieve-psuedo irrigation, even if it is for organic crops(in one case).

I'm not sure about how buybacks will work on the Barwon/Darling unregulated rivers, but buy-backs will work in regulated systems like the Gwydir and Maquarie. The water can be delivered in measured amounts at appropriate times from the dams. Whether the result is good bad or indifferent we'll have to wait and see.


judging by your previous comments on public opinion i gather that you were one of the people criticizing the buyback of water from the perspective of defending the viability of Bourke as an economic regional centre?

"...$400 million to breed 200000 more ibis, or feed 200000 cattle".
Well, the cattle appear to be screwing up some of these areas when they are overstocked.
As for the Ibis, they are part of a complex eco system that maintains, amongst other things, a productive, ongoing ecology in the first place.
Lyn, agree with most of your coments, but the 4 Corners thesis was quite clear. Certain regions, at this time, eg in NSW, are more amenable to ecologically sustainable polices than Queensland, where the mood, typified by the ALP water minister, was bellicose, as it has been for some time, throwing up as it has such corrupt examples as the Cubbie Creek rort.
For my part, belated action at a federal level was canvassed loudly, by both parties, before last federal election.
Now we see the ubiquitous old pattern re-emerge. We can't do this; we can't do that- property rights here, states rights there, what about regions, must only be a MARKET solution, blah, blah, so on and so forth..
Well, when Latham stated his $800 mill restructuring proposal for Tassie forests, a similar sort of problem, I thought a solution was established for other forms of that sort of problem, also.
Secondly, the racketeering aspect has much to do with people clearing and acquiring licences, not to grow stuff but in anticipation of buy backs, compensation etc.
Don't tell me they can't have a legislative framework that can't deal with when the genuine cases end and the rorts begin as part of an overview of the Murray Darling where objective science and economics, where community rights takes precedence over property "rights"; no matter how selfish or destructive to the entirety ( where is the discussion of the related issue of carbon sinks in all of this?! ).
Which brings us to that old issue of ecological sustainability, mentioned above.
The basis for sustainable cology, including as useful for agriculture is being trashed, not even for efficient production, but with clearing and abuse as part of an elaborate and largely non-productive pantomime for subsidies and corporate welfare, in a way that is incidentally, carelessly and callously reducing something the Australian community and its local communities will desperately and actually need in the future.
Enough of property "rights" anda bit more of property "responsibilities", if people don't mind.

Gary, Bourke is pretty specific, I've only been there once and really don't know what it has to offer. If you mean Toorale in particular, then I would be most critical. It has about 10GL of billabong storage, hardly the basis of an efficient irrigation farm- and presumably the reasoning behind seling of weak assets. If we quickly put that in perspective, the menindee lakes loose about 500GL/yr when 50%+ full. $300 million on Menindee works would buy a much more reliable and cheaper water saving- creating work whilst mainyaining production. How could I possibly be critical.

Whilst buybacks remain voluntary I cannot be critical of them, it's an out for those who want to sell up in trying times. I'd rather however see some action on the infrastructure spending promised.

Bourke is unlikely to be a economic powerhouse, but some regard their home as their castle- why force them to move if there are alternatives. Why not similarly say- Adelaide you've stuffed up, over stretched your resources and have had to tap into the Murray, we need to leave that water in the river, and half of you have to leave.

paul, "As for the Ibis, they are part of a complex eco system that maintains, amongst other things, a productive, ongoing ecology in the first place."

Then perhaps you'll elaborate, and possibly provide a number required to maintain sustainability. Is it 4000,40000, 400000. The Govt spent $2 million for (from memory) 20000 breeding pairs at the Narran lakes yet Ibis are viewed as a scurge in Sydney. I'm more than happy the fledglings didn't die, and don't have an issue with this case, but for goodness sake have a plan with goals at least a little bit specific about what we're trying to achieve with returned water.
Ironically irrigators storage saved the day, using only 11GL to maintain water levels for that breeding event.

you don't seem to understand what has been happening in Adelaide in the last couple of decades--people have been leaving this region since the 1980s because there has been no jobs. Now Adelaide is being hit with the effects of climate change and that means hotter temperature, less rain and lack of water.

Bourke seems to be in denial about climate change. Another difference with Bourke is that Adelaide can access water from the sea with desalinisation plants and has made moves towards recycling water. Bourke as far as I know---4 Corners said nothing on this-- has not moved in the recycling direction. That is a shift towards sustainability --- a bit of a boo word in a region where old style development is still the dominant public philosophy.

The irrigation industry is no different to the car industry---both are declining industries.

nan, Bourke must be terribly upset about climate change right now after one of their best years of rainfall and full onfarm storages- most of which has been applied to record breaking sorghum and wheat crops. How do we explain that, or could it simply be a cycle after all?

When we quote sustainability we forget that without water there can be no irrigation. No water is exactly that- no water. It has nothing to do with sustainability.

As to Adelaide- because it is suffering from climate change does everyone have to pay for it, or will they accept that they have to adapt?

I believe Toorale will have used most of it's water up by handover in December.

Quite true, irrigation declines with drought, but unlike the car industry can be back at 100% within weeks- just add water. Our farmers are already competing with third world farmers, so they are well ahead of our car industry in terms of viability.