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Murray-Darling basin: water reform? « Previous | |Next »
May 26, 2011

I've been going through my photographic archives and I'm starting to upload some of the images I took of the River Murray around 2004 when the drought was deeply entrenched, water reform was beginning to make some headway in Canberra, and the water wars were in full swing.

Today we can see what the reform has amounted to. In Water wars: the battle between public and private Ian Douglas states it succinctly:

The unbundling of water rights from land title has been the lynchpin of water reform, enabling water entitlements to be leased, treated as equity, bequeathed or permanently traded...Australian water is now effectively commoditised: allocated to whoever is willing to pay the going price. The market cares not whether you intend to drip-irrigate vegetables, cultivate cotton by flood irrigation, water golf courses - or merely hold your allocation as an investment for a rainy, or not so rainy, day. We are told that water trading will promote the allocation of water to “high value” uses, but the concept of “value” is far from precise.

Those who benefit are the ones with deep pockets--- the large-scale agribusiness enterprises--whilst those who will lose out in the long rum are the small farmers. That is how capitalism works--it becomes ever more concentrated.

It was pretty clear by around 2004-6 that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission did not have the power to act in the national interest---it was unable to restore the environmental flows the ecology of the basin needed. Big Ag ensured that. It did the same with the Commission successor-- the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The latter has been forced to reduce the proposed environmental allocation to 2,800 gigalitre increase rather than the nearly 4000 litres previously recommended as a lower limit.

The decrease comes from a political fix premised on the reality that the Murray-Darling river system exists primarily for development by the water extraction industries. That is why politics trumps science. What next? Dumping voluntary water buybacks to reduce the over allocation of water entitlements? A return to increased efficiency of the extraction of water through the ongoing public subsidy of Big AG?

The long term strategy of Big Ag in an era of climate change is to ensure that more water for them is extracted.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:22 PM | | Comments (8)


"the Murray-Darling Basin Commission did not have the power to act in the national interest---it was unable to restore the environmental flows the ecology of the basin needed. Big Ag ensured that." = well said Gary. It has become even more obvious in the last few months that the government is determined that there will be no restoration of river ecology, and therefore no more of those noisy irrigator protests. This was evident from the appointment if Knowles, his "lack of confidence in the Board", the resignation of Taylor, and now the resignation of the scientists. Big Ag has won and the Murray Darling has lost, permanently this time. Burke and Garrett should hang their heads but they won't of course - political expediency rules the day.

I don't think bigAg has won anything. It(big and small) has simply asked the MDBA to justify it's figures and to ensure that people in the Basin(not just water holders) are valued fairly.

2800GL is still nearly twice as much as the upperband estimate(1500GL) from the 2004 era,

yet very little of the science used in the Basin Plan version 1 is post 2004. One has to ask what changed in the original data?

I can only hope that the 2800GL is based on real science and not merely lobbying by either side of the debate.

Tony Windsor's plan (ie that of the House of Representatives Regional Australia committee) for increased environmental flows favours infrastructure development, rather than water buy back on a voluntary basis.

This plan is designed to gives basin communities certainty and confidence about their future. It's more subsidies for Big AG.

I cannot see how the environmental flows that are required to ensure the ecological health of the River Murray can come from the upgrading of leaky irrigation channels through public subsidy of the big water users in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

It's a political fix by Burke and Knowles --ie., restoring 2800 gigalitres to the system might be enough, rather than the nearly 4000 litres previously recommended as a lower limit.

A political fix that is a response to the power of Big AG that set out to cripple the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The latter is effectively hobbled.

Of course, the fix doesn't address the scientific evidence of the over allocation of water entitlements and the drying of the southern Murray-Darling basin due to climate change.

Why should it ? Big Ag denies climate change. Nature works in drought/flood and hot cold cycles. Science has it all wrong.The drought did not last. It was just a question of a lack of rain.

Common sense, based on observation, tells us that increased efficiency is all that is needed.

There is going to be another drought even on the way the way that the anti-science, book burning irrigators look at things in terms of nature eternally working in cycles.

There will be a cut in water allocations again, more irrigators will be forced to exit the industry, and the ecology of the basin will continue to decline. There will be more calls for the state to featherbed the world's most “efficient” farming sector. The state will respond to ensure that the regional cities within the basin are maintained and their economies viable.

It's called business-as-usual.

George, 3000GL was the lower estimate the MDBA originally came up with.
What irks irrigators is the lack of data supplied about the basis of these estimations.The Basin plan clearly states that the environment will use 1000-1400GL and the rest will be flushed out to sea.