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federalism + water « Previous | |Next »
December 26, 2009

I've always defended federalism in Australia as a way to counterbalance the centralizing power of the commonwealth. But it has become dysfunctional over water, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin, and the states are to blame. They have allowed, and encouraged, the exploitation of the natural resources of the fragile Basin and pushed it to the edge of a long term viability crisis.

Possibly over the edge. The cause has been short-term state interest; cross border rivalries, vote buying, and commerce. The states, captured by the irrigator agricultural lobby, have never been able to manage the basin in terms of the long-term national interest. Even today, state interests override the national interest of CoAG to reduce the over allocation of water drawn from the basin's dying rivers by agricultural irrigation.

The states are even unable to co-operate on CoAG's plans to establish water trading across the basin.Victoria's 4% cap on water to be acquired for environmental purposes undermines the federal plan to rescue the basin, and it can be seen as an act of sabotage to protect its inefficient and creaky irrigated agriculture.

Federalism in Australia is dysfunctional.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:30 PM | | Comments (2)


Just got my copy of "Dissent" and a brief scan reveals Kenneth Davidson leading with a hostile article on basically the same subject.
Not pretty reading, but GST will perhaps derive some consolation in that other reasonable people share his concerns.

thanks for that. Dissent is not online at all, and all we have is a brief paraphrase of each article. Davidson wrote the editorial, and the summary says:

The National Water Initiative is based on the lie that water use efficiencies and water licence buybacks can save the Murray-Darling-Goulburn basin which supports the production of 22% of Australia’s GDP. In fact state and federal governments’ real aims are to create a water market fit for privatisation rather than focusing on security of supply at the lowest possible cost to users and the environment.

I agree with that judgment. The water reforms of the National Water Initiative favour the big agricultural corporations and do not favour restoring health to the Basin's depleted rivers. The days of cheap water are going. These reforms feed into an orientation towards growth based on the conquest of nature and progressively casting aside limitations to our freedom.

The articles in this issue of Dissent look to be quite good. They should put some articles from their back issues online. The conversation has moved online.