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

water politics in a neo-liberal world « Previous | |Next »
August 10, 2010

If politics in a neo-liberal world has become a manufactured reality little different from a reality TV show, then we citizens in a democracy do have to be sceptical of politician's promises. Our experience of politics is of a simulation of reality.

In this world that is ours the advertising slogan has become reality. The simulacrum ("likeness or similarity") is no longer a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: what Jean Baudrillard termed the hyperreal. In this manufactured world of surfaces the carefully manufactured image is reality.

The Advertiser is reporting that the ALP is making a commitment to buying back all the water required to save the River Murray. Gillard says:

We anticipate that by the time the Murray-Darling Basin plan comes into effect (in 2014) federal Labor's buybacks and infrastructure investment will have already delivered much of what the rivers will require to be sustainable. If re-elected, we will bridge any remaining gap between what has been returned and what is required to be sustainable. A Labor government will do this by continuing to buy back water each year beyond 2014 until it had returned all the water the Murray-Darling Basin Authority determined the rivers needed in the final basin plan, due next year. Any buybacks will be subject to the availability of water for purchase from willing sellers. Now, farmers can move forward with confidence knowing they will have options to sell their entitlements when the basin plan comes into force.

The promise or the slogan is the reality. The promise is being made in Adelaide for SA and it is composed of references with no referents.

Remember the narrative of resistance to buyback: a 4% cap trading cap imposed by Victoria until 2019, and the intense resistance from Big Ag to any form of water buyback. In this narrative the dominant, politically powerful groups used language to obscure rather than reveal reality.

There are no figures, no targets. If If there is a reference it is to the basin plan which is not even the release. This plan is just another sign that has no referent. What we have is an election slogan, the ALP positioning its brand in the SA market. For the ALP the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth --it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum or promise is what is true.

The substantive problem--ie., the referent--- is that the drying out of the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin is due to global warming party caused by greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power station. Since the ALP is doing very little to address global warming with some form of pricing on carbon (a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme) the basin will continue to dry out, as will our rivers. This referent is never mentioned in this content by the ALP --only the Greens are willing to do so.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:07 AM | | Comments (16)
Comments

Comments

Senator Wong says that the Federal Government is promising to adhere to future recommendations made by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

We don't know those recommendations. What we do know is that irrigators will need to take less out of the river. But how are many thousands of gigaltires are we talking about? What is a sustainable basis? How will the resistance of the states be addressed given the way federal labor has buckled under pressure from Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

Nan; "what is a sustainable basis?"
Your are probably well aware of the attempts to dumb down tertiary rand and d and nobble organisations like AQIS and CSIRO over the last decade that parallels to the seemingunrelated question of dumbing down of media, to suppress enquiry as to what has begun to happen.
GST is saying that the reality is that sustainability is not the criteria to be employed for development, even if they have to sabotage every means of being able to workout that balance that you are seeking. And there is a powerful enforcement mechanism that has sprung up, of globalised capitalism, in the formof trade agreements, "ratings" etc, designed to work community interest, sustainability etc, out of the equation.
Gary's right, we are just beginning to see what living in the neolib simulacra might mean- and it doesn't seem a lot different to the middle ages, is some respects.
At rock bottom,is the assertion that property mnust remain sacarosanct, even to the human cost.

The lack of targets and figures is precisely the issue irrigators have been pointing out and previously criticized for doing so.

Is there a definition of BigAg, as I think it's the family farms that are more aggrieved about the loss of water from their communities. The social and economic ramifications of reform affect what I'd define as BigAg the least.

In practice it has been the larger water holders like Twynam, Tandou and Clyde who have embraced buybacks and comprised a very significant portion of water so far bought back. Twynam in itself supplied nearly a third of the 900GL "returned" to the MBD.

I liked the bit about 'Any buybacks will be subject to the availability of water for purchase from willing sellers.' I would have thought the whole commitment would be 'subject to the availability of water', full stop.

Your bigger point is quite right. Even the resources tax is being written about as if it's a done deal, when in fact it's all subject to more consultation and legislation hasn't even been drafted yet. We have politics by polls, press releases and espoused intentions, not by hard-headed analysis of events.

rojo,
The Advertiser says that it is expected today's commitment will favour the lower reaches of the Murray and put Labor on a collision course with irrigators in the eastern states, who believe the report proposes drastic cuts of 50 to 60 per cent to irrigation entitlements.This is expected to impact irrigators along the Murrumbidgee River in particular.

I recall Barnaby Joyce, saying that he does not have confidence in the way the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority is creating caps on how much water farmers can take from the Murray-Darling.

He said that said the approach the authority was taking in working out the caps disproportionately favoured the environment over the needs of farmers and rural towns.

He added that the caps - or sustainable diversion limits - as they are called--would limit Australia's ability to grow food and feed growing populations in Asia.

We can infer from that that Joyce is opposed to the aim of new Murray-Darling Basin plan, which is to return more environmental water to the river system.

The new Basin plan is being designed under rules set out by the Water Act 2007, which requires the plan to ensure there is enough water in rivers to protect key environmental assets such as internationally recognised wetlands.The Water Act was drawn up by the former Howard government.

rojo,
Big Ag is an American term I've adopted to represent corporate agribusinesses. I've done it to distinguish this mode of agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin from the family farm that is disappearing. Levon Helm, ex drummer from The Band, sings about Poor Old Dirt Farmer with lots of understanding.

My limited understanding---fred would know more about this--- is that the small irrigators in SA want Adelaide (the city) to be weaned off River Murray water (hurrah for the desalinisation plant they say) so that they can have Adelaide's water for their irrigation.

I'm not sure that this is the best response to the Basin Authority proposals (going on hearsay) to reduce the water allocations to irrigators by up to 60% (or is that the Wentworth Group's proposals?) to let the river function in term of its 3 to 5 year floods

What strikes me is that, if that is what is being proposed under the rules set out by the Water Act 2007, which requires the plan to ensure there is enough water in rivers to protect key environmental assets such as internationally recognised wetlands, then that is pretty much game over for a lot of irrigators.

The resource base in the Murray and Murrimbidgee region (not the whole basin) is going to change significantly, and that means difficult change.The only way many can stay and survive given they will have less water is to shift the basis of their production to a more sustainable one. The old ways of doing things, which assumed plenty of water, are well and truely over. Farmers need to become much clever---which many are doing. And less water means that local communities need to diversity their resource base.

My problem is not the lack of targets and figures of the plan which irrigators have been pointing out (these will come in the next couple of months). It is the billions of dollars, the government has committed for pipes and pumps and infrastructure ($5.8 billion promised for irrigation infrastructure) yet we don't even know how much water we're going to run the system on.

Surely we need to know how much water the environment needs and how much we've got for irrigation, (what's that split) so that we know what we've got to actually run the system. Then we invest our money in irrigation infrastructure with that knowledge.

"the Basin Authority proposals (going on hearsay) to reduce the water allocations to irrigators by up to 60% (or is that the Wentworth Group's proposals?)"

The Gillard government has committed $3.1 billion for environmental water buybacks. Labor claims the combined effect of those buybacks and its $4.4 billion package of water-saving infrastructure projects will reduce by 15 per cent the amount of water taken from the Murray-Darling by 2014, when the new basin plan comes into effect.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority's proposed cuts are expected to exceed that. It is more likely that there will be a 30 per cent basin-wide cut. Around 1500 gigalitres needs to be returned to the rivers to ensure moderate health.

Labor has now promised to buy the extra water needed on the open market from willing sellers and says the extra buybacks would continue at the ''historical rate,'' of about $300 million a year, until the basin-wide target is reached.

It is unlikely that the Coalition will commit to anything like a 30% cut to allocations. Abbott has promised to purchase 150 billion litres of water for the parched Lower Lakes region at a cost of $20 million--it's a one off. What happens the following year?

Andrew Gregson, the CEO of the NSW Irrigators Council has been in the media these last few days. His message, whilst couched in the language of balancing environmental and economic interests is one of hostility to the basin plan.

His argument, from what I discern, is
that the basin plan is based solely on environmental water, which clearly isn’t sensible. It will cost thousands of jobs, close hundreds of family farms and directly affect each and every Australian. It stands for the decimation of regional Australia and so is a poor policy.

From memory Gregson attacked the Wentworth Group's report on the basis that it was merely self- aggrandisement by a group that is suffering relevance depravation. syndrome.

Gregson states the obvious: that removing water from irrigated agriculture will have economic impacts. So why is it government policy to do so?

Listening to Gregson I noted his failure to account for why water allocations are be reduced across the basin--namely too much water had been allocated to irrigators by the states. From memory Gregson has said that the lack of water is the result of drought.

His solution is the standard irrigator one: the state spends big sums of money on upgrading the infrastructure, and some of the water from the subsequent efficiency savings can be returned to the river.

Gregson's is the defective public policy of the past---the environment is given what's left over after the irrigators take what they consider to be their entitlement.

A better approach is to work out how much water the environment needs and how much we've got for irrigation, so that we know what we've got to actually run the system. Then we invest our money in irrigation infrastructure with that knowledge.

The NSW irrigators’ Council are on the record as opposing a Commonwealth take-over of water management of the Murray Darling Basin.

The goal of the NSW Irrigator's Council is the efficient, responsible and profitable water use. Their concern is that their licence effectively provided them with a property right. Reform for them is ensuring they have this property right.

Nan, I don't think there is any doubt that the Eastern states will face the biggest cuts, not just because SA entitlements are about 5% of the pie. SA licences are the equivalent of high security licences in the East, and I believe that general[low] security and supplementary licences will comprise most of the buybacks. Mainly because thet'll be cheaper.

Gary, I get what you mean by BigAg, it was more the line where you believe family farms become BigAg.
I think it's the family farming operations big and small that support their representative bodies the most- finacially because family farms still hold most of the water assets, but also in time and effort. They live in the communities, and are vocal in the attempt to have as little damage as possible done to them.
As an aside, with due respect, Andrew Gregson's job is to represent irrigators - there are plenty of vocal people batting for the environment.

I don't see any reason why buybacks shouldn't be via water savings where possible. After all we want the water that is eventually allocated to farmers to be used as efficiently as possible. There's not that much gain for the country by simply buying entitlement and then too apply whats left poorly.

After all irrigation production in the MDB is about $6 billion per annum, and to my thinking fully financing the govt's $1 billion per year spend on the MDB. Add in capital gain realised down the track and monies spent on efficiency and water saving will well and truly cover the extra $/ML
spent now on infrastructure.

I understand your point on knowing how much water will be available first, but think that applies to buybacks too. Ongoing poor allocations would make those a poor investment, and not solve the problem.

Which brings me to another thought, that temporary water purchases solve a lot of problems.
i, It's going to take a long time to achieve required results spending $1b a year.

ii, water is trading at about $100/ML on the murray at present. 1500GL purchased per annum will cost $300 million or less each year. In a big water year the govt wouldn't need to buy any.

iii, that $300m wouldn't cover anywhere near the borrowing cost of a $10 billion investment.

iv, those who may not wish to sell entitlement, though may not be making good cash returns, may be willing to sell temporary water. The water left gets the highest possible return.

v, the capital value of entitlements is not extinguished - although it's not clear to me whether the govt plans to count licences it holds as assets on it's balance sheet.

George, I'm surprised to hear that NSW I C were opposed to commonwealth takeover, as it's constituents(at least in my area) were supportive of whole of basin governence.

Water is a very valuable asset, one that govt allowed to be tradeable.

"The [NSW]Water Management Act 2000 provides for a robust system of water property rights. By
separating the entitlement to water from land title, the Act will encourage trading of licences."
http://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/11485/NCC2002water.pdf

rojo
re NSW Irrigators Council as opposing a Commonwealth take-over of water management of the Murray Darling Basin.

I read it in one of their documents which I cannot find. It referred to Howard's takeover and it was an earlier CEO, whose name I cannot remember.

They've probably changed their position since.

rojo,
sure Andrew Gregson's job is to represent irrigators in NSW. But his policy stance of opposition to reform to ensure a more sustainable basin is premised on the politics of fear.

Consider his "its a wake-up call" response to the Cotton Catchment Communities Co-operative Research Centre report authored by Judith Stubbs and Associates, which tried to estimate the impact of cutting irrigation diversions as part of the new Basin plan being drafted by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Gregson says:

Australians would pay for foolhardy policy in the Basin. People in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and right across Australia will be forced to reach into their pockets, day after day, to pay for a policy that isn’t sensible.The report identifies that tens of thousands of jobs would be lost. These numbers are horrific and a clear damnation of a poor policy approach.

Buying back water allocation to reduce the over-allocations is a poor policy approach? That implies Gregson does not accept that there are over-allocations that need to be cut back to ensure sustainabilty. Sustainabaility is a core policy goal because there is not enough water to support irrigation as it has been practised in the past.

Gregson then goes on to talk in terms of doom and gloom:

The social impacts are equally as horrific, with those that are currently most disadvantaged being identified as the people to suffer most under brutal cuts. Local communities would be devastated, with some large towns likely to face extinction under some of these scenarios. Farms that have been in families for generations across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia would be forced to close. Now – in the middle of an election – is the time for political parties to tell Australia whether they support tens of thousands of jobs, whether they want working families to pay more every day and whether they value family farms.”

The ALP is buying water from willing sellers in the open market. They say they will continue to do so until the river gets enough water to remain in moderate health. No argument is offered by Gregson---that I can find---for why that is "a foolhardy policy" or "a poor policy approach."

There is also money for structural adjustment. No doubt there is or will be money to enable communities to diversify their resource base and regional economy. Even Gregson's despised Wentworth Group supports that.

Gregson does politics not policy. There's a big difference. He's the poorer for only being able to do one of them, given the billions of dollars now flowing into the basin.

Gary, it's how govt goes about it.
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/labors-empty-promise-20100811-11zq5.html

I'm not sure what you find wrong with Gregson's quote.
The report does indicate thousands of jobs are at risk with indicated cuts to water access. Poor policy will result in wasted tax funds. There is a feeling of doom and gloom, amongst farmers, local businesses and local councils. Family farms are being swallowed up by corporate interests.

Your reaction to Andrew is no different to the reaction I get seeing pictures of dry Darling river beds on TV when the MD is mentioned despite the Darling floods and ongoing flows. Or the lack of mention that Lake Alexandrina is now above sealevel when the lower lakes are discussed.

On allocations, yes there were too many entitlements issued to ensure 100% reliability . The split between high, low and supplementary categories mitigates this somewhat. In historical terms high security water has been well and truly covered, until this decade of record low inflows.
We have to factor in the reliability of the other licences, which in a country with the worlds highest variability of rainfall, can only ever be an average.
Only water available can be allocated, so effectively the amount of entitlement on issue is irrelevant. The share of water available for irrigation and the environment is what's relevant.


Gee the Gregson stuff is like
"Huns bayonet babies in Belgium" stuff.
One of the delights of an Australian election is the flying of all manner of wonderous thought-bubbles, conceptions and confections, hocus pocus, fantasies, Manichean apocolyptic scenarios and general symptoms of religious or ideological fervour.
Almost as much fun as whale watching down on the Fleurieu.
But only almost..