April 5th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Iraq war: will it change everything?

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: urgent action needed

Queensland: Beattie follows Canberra on embryo experimentation

Water rights: an emerging political issue in the Murray Darling Basin

Straws in the Wind: Varieties of folly / With us or against us / Cue for a song / Hatred

NSW Election: Bob Carr's next four years

Trade deal: what will Washington do?

Euthanasia: Victorian Tribunal orders death by starvation

Has privatisation been successful?

Letters: The cost of the Victorian bushfires (letter)

How taxation hits families

School students, demonstrations and the New Civics

ASIA: North Korea's nuclear game

SARS: China the epicentre of world flu outbreaks

BOOKS: On Enlightenment, by David Stove

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Water rights: an emerging political issue in the Murray Darling Basin

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, April 5, 2003
Federal and State governments appear oblivious to the magnitude of the proposal to take 5-15 per cent of water allocations off farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Water rights are attached to property rights. The security of water rights are a guarantee to farmers, and to the banks which provide farmers capital, that farmers will be able to plan their production and repay their loans over a 10 year period.

The proposal to slice off a percentage of those rights would be analogous to a state government announcing its intention to take 10 per cent of property off every property owner in the capital city to widen foot paths for environmental reasons, while offering compensation.

The political reality is that the public outcry would see the government removed at the next election. Compensation for loss of land would be irrelevant.

In the case of many rural industries, they cannot sustain an increase in the price of water, which would result from the cutting of supply and increased competition between farmers for water, but also between regional towns and non-farm industries both of which can afford to pay a much higher price for water.

The Living Murray paper, in which the proposal is made for the resumption of water allocations, has been described by some water experts as the most poorly argued scientific and environmental document produced on the Murray Darling Basin. Its sole focus is on increasing water flows in the river system, which may dilute the problem but won't fix the environmental problems that parts of the Basin are experiencing.

It appears to be more driven by political considerations than by true science.

Although a long research paper on economic and social impacts of the proposal has been produced, it appears that only a short sanitised version has been placed on the Murray Darling Authority website. The full report is believed to show serious negative impacts on the economy of the region if farmers water allocations are removed.

The areas most likely to be seriously affected are the Goulburn and Murrumbidgee irrigation regions, as the Murray River water is heavily committed for supplying Adelaide.

While a consultation process between the Murray Darling Basin Authority and farmers is supposed to be well underway, it has been a serious failure.

Most farmers are not even aware of the proposal and don't know that a consultation process has started. Most have been in day to day survival mode trying to survive the severe drought.

Yet the Federal and State governments involved in the process are to decide on taking a percentage of water allocations away from farmers by October, at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). It is believed that the Federal government is keen to make a decision on Murray Darling water issues before the next Federal election, due in 2004.

  • Pat Byrne

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