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Xenophon stands his ground « Previous | |Next »
February 13, 2009

So Nick Xenophon stood firm on Rudd's the Nation Building and Jobs Plan in the Senate. His reason was that there was not enough money for the communities in the Murray-Darling Basin, and no commitment on the fast-tracking of billions of dollars for water buybacks and irrigation projects in the Basin. Xenophon wanted $2 billion extra to help regional communities adjust to farming reductions and the acceleration of a $5 billion infrastructure and buyback plan to help the Murray-Darling river system.

Swan and Rudd were only willing to bring forward $400 million to fast-track water buybacks.They were not that interested in stimulating economic activity in the basin, despite their rhetoric about the need for creating jobs and ensuring sustainability. Yet "saving" the Murray-Darling Basin belongs in the stimulus plan just as much as a community-building project.

Xenophon is right that governments have ignored the Murray-Darling Basin for far too long. If this resistance is what it takes to get some action, then so be it, despite the usual mutterings and flak from the peak bodies of business and unions about loss of confidence and jobs. They talk as if the Murray-Darling Basin is not about business and jobs. Consequently, the wrangling over the Rudd Government's $42 billion economic stimulus package will continue today.

Senator Xenophon met with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Water Minister Senator Penny Wong this morning, where he secured more than $1 billion worth of funding, to be brought forward, for infrastructure and water buy-backs for the Murray Darling Basin: it included $500 million for water buybacks, $200 million in funding for local governments for re-engineering works and $200 million for stormwater recycling. Finally some action.

Much more investment is needed for water buybacks and stormwater recycling in SA ----especially in the Riverland. It should be $2 billion for water recycling as a starting point.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:18 AM | | Comments (23)


On one hand it's good to see someone forcing some action on the Murray Darling, on the other, do we need senators tacking their pet projects onto everything that passes their way, US-style?

I might think differently if I wasn't sitting here in Qld watching the rain bucket down.

It's been a dramatic week all told. Fires, floods, tears, Fielding's meltdown, the fear in Turnbull's eyes, Gillard being prime ministerial.

Michelle Grattan in The Age says that Xenophon's actions are bizarre:

His concerns about the Murray-Darling are commendable. But to stymie this package when Australia is heading towards, if not into, recession, on the grounds that he can't get adequate money brought forward for the river system is both irresponsible and politically self-indulgent.Many people and, if we believe the experts, the whole economy, will be hurt if the package doesn't go through quickly.....Small parties and independents can play a significant role and add to the texture of our democracy. But frankly, they also need to know their place — which is not to hold up $42 billion during a crisis.

Grattan's response is bizarre. Xenophon is doing what he has been elected to do --look out for SA 's interests. No one else will.

Re your "I might think differently if I wasn't sitting here in Qld watching the rain bucket down." You just might. Someone has to help the irrigators off the land now that the eater has gone.

Wong sure as hell isn't doing anything.

Peak business groups, such as the Australian Retailers Association and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, want the $42 billion to keep the economy afloat. Boost aggregate demand so their businesses survive. So why not the economy and businesses in the Murray-Darling Basin?

Surprisingly, The Advertiser in Adelaide was opposed to Xenopho. His actions, it says, were political opportunism:

....late yesterday, in the middle of the most severe global economic downturn in living memory, an independent senator and the Opposition combined to defeat the Government's stimulus package.This is anything but a good result for this country.To put it bluntly, it is inappropriate for a single senator to have this kind of deliberative power – especially at such a crucial time...Senator Nick Xenophon is within his rights to attempt to extract a better deal for the dying Murray Darling Basin, but there is a limit to how far he should go. Frustrating a massive and, we are told, absolutely essential, fiscal stimulus is overstepping that mark.

Why is Xenophon overstepping the mark? The Advertiser says because these "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures."

It is a bit rich for the Advertiser saying, "To put it bluntly, it is inappropriate for a single senator to have this kind of deliberative power" and yet somehow it is ok for the Coalition to vote wholesale against it. If the individual Coalition senators were more pragmatic and didn't vote on party lines then Xenophon wouldn't be in a position to have that kind of deliberative power.
Let's not forget. The Coalition were completely against the package. Xenophon supported the package but saw a need that could be addressed. Good on him!!
Now if we could just make Xenophon Minister for the Environment we might get some serious work done on climate change.

I've been reading through comments at various blogs in the lead up to the 2007 election (don't ask) and the contrast between expectations and the reality of Wong is striking.

That's true for most of the Labor politicians, but even more so for Wong. Out of the person, the portfolio or the issue, I'd say it's the Murray Darling issue that's hurt her the most.

On the Murray-Darling Basin Wong is close to useless. The issues are understood by her but there is no action.No leadership. She's reactive, asleep at the wheel.

It is South Australian Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who has kept the fate of the Lower Lakes and Coorong in public view. The Greens convinced the Rudd Government to provide funding for bioremediation of the Lower Murray----revegetation and mulch are used to prevent soil acidification in contrast to the preferred Rann-Wong option of letting in seawater. This option is premised on future freshwater flows into the Lakes which Wong refuses.

The GDP generated throughout the basin makes it one of the highest priorities. It requires more than the lip service that is being paid to it now. At least Nick Xenophon had the issue brought back onto the table.
The building of infrastructure to protect the basin environmentally and economically must be dealt with now. Well done but it is just the beginning

It would be good to see some of that buy back action applied to the massive storages in SE Qld, but I imagine full storages are more expensive than empty ones.

Penny Wong's inaction presents another problem. It's one thing to allocate funding, another to spend it.

Look you all have to get over it, a lot of water is lost between Queensland and South Australia. It's flowing slowly towards South Australia at the moment, won't be there for months and by the time it gets there most will be back in the sky.

The silliest place to have large scale agriculture is at the end of a river in the middle of a desert, the sensible thing is to move it upstream before the water loss. When water can be traded out of one area to another that is what will happen.

Adjustment will be about buying back licenses and closing down communities. Sad but that is the way it is.

Wong probably cannot get anything much re buybacks through the Rudd cabinet unless there is popular pressure on them. Only then will they give an inch. So it takes the balance of power leverage in an emergency situation to shift Swan and Rudd and Treasury.

I though that the money Xenophon was able to leverage out of Rudd and Swan included monies for adjustment along the river.

spending the money Xenophon got fast forwarded will be difficult, given:

... that the Council of Australian Governments last year failed to get rid of a 4 per cent cap on the amount of water that could be traded out of a irrigation district in any given year;
.... given that the Government's present system of tendering buybacks is so painfully slow.

Victoria is preventing reform to protect its irrigated agriculture. Rudd buckles. So the use of the market as an instrument of reform is blocked by the agrarian socialists.

Lenore Taylor in The Australian is hostile to Xenophon's actions. She says that these inevitably brings the debate around to the appropriate way to use the balance of power in the Senate, and when the upper house stops being a house of review and starts being a house of extortion.

It is often lone senators, with extremely limited resources and a handful of staff, who have to make the judgment about where to draw the line between being a rubber stamp and being reckless, who have to decide how far they can go in calling a government's bluff. If they are too easily swayed they achieve nothing, if they are too strident they can sink the agenda of the government of the day and destroy their own credibility.

She adds that different parties and individuals sitting on the crossbenches have taken different approaches to balancing that decision.The late Australian Democrats adopted the high moral ground model. They refused to cross-trade at all and insisted they would assess each bill on its merits. She adds:
Xenophon has just pioneered a crash-through model, initially demanding more than $5 billion in Murray-Darling Basin funding for his vote and taking the Government right to the wire.This is a publicity hound's variation on the approach of former senator Brian Harradine, who cross-traded until government ministers were at a loss to figure out how to spend any more money in his home state of Tasmania, but who liked to keep his negotiations and many of his victories, quiet.

There is no assessment on the value of the package--eg, storm water recycling---in relation to water issues by Taylor. Xenophon is dismissed as a publicity hound and extortionist.

The inference? The Senate must not put constraints on the executive. Executive dominance should not be counterbalanced by other centres of power.

Checking around the blogs on this issue has revealed a couple of mind sets that are relevant and guiding responses rather than analysis of the issue itself.
There is definitely an 'outa sight, outa mind' [lack of] awareness, the easterners have no idea of the plight of the Murray Darling Basin, its not on their radar at all, except for the platitude of 'oh dear something should be done about that one day'.
The food bowl, gotta look after the struggling irrigators, leave it to the market, desal and stormwater will fix it, memes are constantly iterated without any analysis, comparative costing, environmental impact.
Its all essentially superficial analysis.
Parochialism and ignorance rule!
And thats from the 'lefty' blogs.

Dear me, I despair....again.

Oh BTW, this morning I was talking to a local shopkeeper on the Murray.
His trade is down because the houseboats and riverboats can not get to his town because there are sandbars IN THE MAIN CHANNEL stopping movement up and down the river.

No worries, she'll be right!

it is hard to know what Xenophon had in mind other than him basically looking after the Riverland irrigators.

I would have though that money for storm water recycling would be a great idea for the SA towns along the River Murray--Berri, Renmark, Waikerie, Loxton, Barmera--plus Mannum, Blanchtown etc---

What would be even a greater idea is investment in sewerage infrastructure that their sewerage is not dumped into the River, but is treated an used to water the fruit and grapes --as is now done in McLaren Vale in Adelaide. However, I heard nothing about that.

Storm water harvesting is a great idea under several certain provisos.
Firstly, the almost certainly necessary alterations to town water engineering that can be expensive depending on the physical layout of existing systems.
Secondly the temporary nature of the capture, it only provides water when such is poring from the sky and less likely to be needed anyway.
Unless it can be stored which is another constraint, and the place to do same is available.Then it would need to be pumped, through a new piping system.
Thirdly the quality of the water, that which has gone through a town is probably not potable and this restricts its application perhaps even excluding use for trees, god knows what is in that water.
Fourthly all would take time to complete, years at least and we know that engineering projects have a habit of blowing out financially.
But despite all those provisos and the cost still not a bad idea.

But most significant is the quantities available if we are looking at ameliorating the draw on the river.
We would be looking at maybe a few dozens of megalitres of usable water per town, maybe a few GL over the entire length and population of the river.

And that, for the trouble and the cost, is a piddle in the ocean when placed in the context of the irrigation usage at several 100s of GL minimum even this year with stiff quotas.

Nice idea, worth doing as a long term plan, but not the answer to the problems of the Murray.

Ditto desalination, ditto sewerage processing, ditto domestic tanks.
All good ideas but expensive.
And none contributing enough to the huge reductions needed.

And all avoiding the real problem.
Over allocation of irrigation water.

Forgot the most important point of all dam it.
See if, by all those methods above you saved a mildly significant quantity of water, lets say 20 GL.
Guess who would get all that extra water?

Would you put money on the river getting any of it?


Yes the other states do seem to have more their own identities while South Australia is a bit of an ugly cousin at the party that stutters.
Just ignore her and she will go talk to someone else is the mindset.
Perhaps if S.A had stamped itself in the minds of mainstream OZ on a larger scale the problem with the Murray would of been taken more seriously sooner.

I'm not arguing that storm water retention and sewerage processing and recycling solves the lack of water for irrigated agriculture. That is the over-allocation of water licences by corrupt state governments.

They are steps to making these towns more sustainable in the use of water and less reliant on the river as tap and drain.

If these towns are not willing to accept that they are communities in a desert type environment that requires a substantial conservation of water and renewable energy, then they have no future.

The money is there for infrastructure investment but we here little about this kind of investment.

the Melbourne/Sydney/Canberra nexus has had a stranglehold on governance. Only Brisbane has managed to elbow its way into the circle. SA is definitely on the margins and very marginalized.

The Murray River is running on empty from the long dry --people want to leave. These are exit payments.

The Age is hostile. It's editorial says:

The bouts of haggling that took place in the Senate on Thursday and Friday between the Government and independent senator Nick Xenophon owed nothing to the careful weighing of evidence heard by the committee. Senator Xenophon, who on Thursday voted the package down, allowed it to pass a day later after the Government agreed to spend $900 million on expediting water buy-backs and other projects in the Murray-Darling Basin. The episode does no credit to Senator Xenophon, who has not so much demonstrated a desire to avert ecological disaster in the nation's only great river system as he has an apparent inability to grasp the gravity of the crisis enveloping Australia and the world.

Xenophon imperilled the jobs of Australians! To hell with the river communities and the River Murray.

yeah its little more than cartoon slogans of Senate obstruction