SPECIAL FEATURE: by Alan Jones AONews Weekly
Alan Jones' vision for unlocking Australia's potential
, November 26, 2011
When award-winning Sydney broadcaster and legendary former coach of the Wallabies, Alan Jones AO, addressed a recent News Weekly dinner in Melbourne, he offered a radical and bold vision for Australia that went far beyond what our major parties are prepared to contemplate.
He showed how the harnessing of our rivers’ vast water resources could improve Australia’s food security and make our country the foodbowl for Asia, and how the development of high-speed railways could both develop our regions and make housing more affordable for young families.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Alan Jones also warned about the dangers of allowing Australia’s prime agricultural land to be turned over to mining for coal-seam gas.
Here is a transcription of part of his speech, which he delivered without notes.
Water for food production
Let me just hypothesise here tonight. Just supposing tonight we took away a third of the water entitlement for this hotel at five o’ clock this afternoon. We’d have to close a third of the rooms and have to cancel a third of the tables.
What we don’t understand is there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do without water.
What would happen if we had water west of the Great Dividing Range, knowing that the world population, which is about 7 billion now, may well grow by 2050 to 9 billion, some say to 10.6 billion? That’s an increase in the world population of 50 per cent, and the need, they say, for a 70 per cent increase in the availability of food.
Now, what’s the answer? I’d be saying: “Hello, that’s us!”
We can do this. We’ve got the best land, we’ve got the best farmers, we’re the most efficient people. The world is moving in our direction. We have the capacity to be the richest country in the world. All we have to do, west of the Great Dividing Range, is provide for water.
Can you tell me any person who’s argued that case or who’s argued in favour of it? Catching water? Damning water? Preserving water? No-one!
We’re good at wasting it. Just take the Clarence River system. From the Clarence River system in New South Wales — I’m taking just one river — five million gigalitres every year go into the ocean. That’s 10 Sydney harbours.
If you divert … oh, I can hear them out there now! Your Wentworth Group out there thinking, “Oh, there’s a tadpole, there’s a frog somewhere, there are five lizards. We can’t do it!”
If, however, you were to divert that water inland — 10 Sydney harbours — and you put two of them into the Murray-Darling Basin, you’ll increase the Murray-Darling flow by 100 per cent.
Forget all this nonsense about environmental flows, and taking water away from farmers, which is what we’re doing now, when the rest of the world is starving and we’ve got the capacity to produce the food for their needs.
Just from the Clarence River system alone, if we took two of those Sydney harbours, we could increase the water flow for the Murray-Darling Basin by 100 per cent.
The Clarence River system provides enough water to increase the capacity of the Great Artesian Basin by 27 per cent. It’s like the lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem: there’s “water, water everywhere”.
Or go to the Ord River system in Western Australia. The Ord River system belches every day — every day — 4 billion litres of water into the Timor Sea.
The Fitzroy River system is 50 times greater than the Ord system. What’s being done about this? Nothing. We just waste it.
In 1898, there was a gold-rush in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, in the middle of nowhere. This is what our history teaches us.
We are not worth two bob compared with those who’ve gone before us. Our generation wouldn’t have stood up in World War I or World War II. We’d be looking for somewhere to hide; we’d be finding some excuse.
That’s because the leadership is pathetic. It’s a vacuum. I mean, John Milton wrote in Samson Agonistes: “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” It’s a metaphor for the crisis in political issue. People are looking up, and they think: who is there to take us where we need to go?
In 1898 there was C.Y. O’Connor. They needed water for Kalgoorlie. What’s he going to do? Well, there’s the Mundaring reservoir 600 km from Kalgoorlie. The only place.
Young people, think about this. It’s 600 km from Kalgoorlie. They had to get the water over an escarpment of 1,000 metres to Kalgoorlie. It was to be the biggest pipeline in the world.
To give you some idea, in terms of, what size we’re talking about. You take Perth up there in Scotland. It’s the distance between Perth and London.
O’Connor began the pipeline in 1898. It was completed in 1902. The criticism of O’Connor was for exceeding in his vision what reality should’ve allowed for, such that O’Connor committed suicide.
That pipeline, built between 1898 and 1902, provides 27 million litres of water today. It feeds 100,000 people and 6 million sheep in Kalgoorlie today.
You take the area around the Gulf of Carpentaria — 130,000 gigalitres of water are poured into the ocean every year. Now, are you telling me that we don’t have the capacity to harvest it or transport it? That’s forgetting all the floods we’re getting. That’s forgetting all the water that falls here.
When local governments started to flex their muscles, the only way they could exercise their muscle was with money. They needed money. And they suddenly saw that there one thing that was central to urbanisation, and that was water.
And, basically, my mum and dad, and your mum and dad, had a little water-tank in the backyard. What did local government do? They banned the tank, so that local government had an instrument whereby they could raise money.
They provided water, but they’d charge you for the water, which they’ve done. And, as a result, most homes in Melbourne and Sydney don’t have a tank in the backyard. The rain falls and the water’s wasted. It goes down into the storm-water drain and out into the ocean, and what do they do when they get it in the ocean? They bring it back and take the salt out of it with a desalination plant which you can’t afford. Work that out!
So, we don’t harvest water, and we don’t transport it. Which brings me to the next point. Let me just finish with that point: we have the capacity if we were to water regional Australia, to feed the world, to decentralise our population, and there’s not one single initiative about it.
Malcolm Turnbull, after John Howard made him minister for water, used to say, “Oh, it’s far too expensive to bring water from the north to the south.” What did he mean by that? What do you mean by “too expensive”? You see, this is what’s wrong with us in this country. We always talk cost and not benefit.
I wonder if you said to the farmer: “It’ll cost you $5.20 a kilolitre for your water. Against that, I think it’ll get cheaper. But you’ll have it forever! Would you be prepared to pay $5.20?” We’ve never asked our farmers that.
This is the point. Why do we talk cost and not benefit? You know how they say, “Ah, well, water is heavier to transport!” Well, have you heard of a gravity-feed? You can go down to the Murray-Darling near Griffith. And there’s water, it’s a gravity feed, so you link the canals in such a way that the water just powers itself through.
Let’s take the next point, about productivity, how do we enable a young man to make a future for himself? He’s going to have to be able to afford a house in Melbourne or Sydney, because, I tell you, out there in the sticks there’s no future!
Why can’t we connect the people in the sticks? Why can’t we have a very fast train that will take people from the north of Australia to southern Australia and routes out, whether it’s to Canberra or to Ballarat or wherever.
Let me tell you that China has a proposal to build 17,000 kilometres — they started this in 2010 — of very fast train by 2020. That is, 17,000 in 10 years. By 2020, they will have 90 bullet-trains a day between Shanghai and Beijing, travelling at 350 kilometres an hour.
Take my state of New South Wales. Supposing we could have a very fast train which took people from the north of Australia to southern Australia, how much would it cost? Say it was about $108 billion.
Where do we get the money from? Well, hang on, what about the broadband? It’s useless. We gave $80 billion in stimulus payments which ran out the surplus that Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello left us, and we’ve spent another $50 billion or whatever on a national broadband scheme that’ll be obsolete before it is built, when everything is going to be wire-less, that is, not coming off copper wire.
We’ve got the money easily to be able to afford this. It’ll cost about $108 billion, and it would connect Australia. Now, if that happened, just take New South Wales, a young man could live at Goulburn, he could get a lovely home there for $280,000 or $320,000 — a pool in the backyard or whatever. He’ll be in Sydney in 20 minutes!
Or he could live in Canberra, or the outskirts of Canberra. The train leaves Canberra. Well, okay, he lives in Collector, NSW — a lovely little village 20 minutes’ drive from Canberra. He could take his family to Collector. Go park the car in Canberra. From there to Sydney will be 35 minutes, 32 minutes or even 28 minutes on a very fast train.
So what are we doing? We say to young people: “Now listen, you can still have the big smoke, work in the big smoke and we’ll get you there. And you’ll have a lovely lifestyle for your family in rural Australia, which is beautiful.
“You’ll save a lot of money. You won’t be forking out $600,700 for a house. We’re reducing the cost of housing.
“We’re going to take transports off the road because, under the proposal of Everald Compton, he said we’ll do two things — and this is what China is doing — we’ll use the traditional railway lines, but improve them, and we’ll put a gas-line and a water-line beside the railway line.
So wherever the railway line goes, we’ll have gas and water, and it will follow the people I’m talking about. I’m talking about what we should stand for.
We stand for taking people from where they are to where they can reasonably expect to be. That’s what my job as a rugby coach was. And I said people don’t want to be losing throughout their lives. And I’ll tell you what, we’re not here to lose.
That’s the fundamental principle of what we stand for. Don’t complicate things with a whole load of ideological claptrap that no-one can understand.
As an example of the most simple and articulate expression of policy, what is wrong with saying there will be no extra mining taxes? We already pay company taxes.
You can’t get a system whereby you’re taxing people at the top of the cycle when in fact once the bottom of the cycle occurs, the prices are crook and the tax still applies.
We’re running ourselves out of business. The mining industry has kept us alive!
However, I’m not suggesting that coal-seam gas (CSG) and open-cut coal-mining should go on prime agricultural land or heavily urbanised land.
I’m fighting that battle at the moment. We have to quarantine prime agricultural land to meet our food security needs and to be able to feed the rest of the world.
The footprint of Australia from prime agricultural land is only 4 per cent; but you’ve got these people in Victoria allowing prime agricultural land in north-west Victoria to be sold to the Qatar Government, for goodness’ sake!
Now, I don’t mind Qatar winning the Melbourne Cup, but I object to their buying our prime agricultural land.
But China and Qatar are smarter than we are, because they say, “Well, we’ve got a policy, and it’s called ‘paddock to plate’. We’ll use your paddocks to put the food on our plates.”
Where do we fit into this? Shouldn’t we be asking: what kind of Australia are we going to leave behind? Come on! How is this allowed to happen?
Now, Santos [the gas and oil exploration and production company] and this mob that I’m taking on at the moment — well, we’re winning, because we’re saying “Lock the gate. Don’t let ’em on. Let ’em take us to court!”
They might have a licence from the government. In New South Wales, for example, coal-seam gas companies have a tax holiday for five years. Can you believe it? It’s open slather.
And they say: “Oh, but hang on, hang on. You don’t know what’s underground!”
And I say, “No, we don’t. I can see that. But do you want to know something? Nor do you!” What’s underground is owned by the community, and Santos is not the community. You are the community. They are not the community.
And so we say: “You think you can march over people’s land? Well, I’ve got to tell you that people died in World War I and World War II for the freedom to establish and articulate and salute property ownership. What you own is yours.”
The actor Michael Caton is a friend of mine. He made a movie called The Castle (1997). We laughed at it. It was a comedy, because your home was your castle.
Now this mob think they can march onto your property, and think they’ve got the same entitlement to be on it as you have. No, they haven’t! We’re locking the gate, and they’re in strife.
Have you heard anyone from Canberra oppose all this? No, because the governments are broke and they want the money, and they think that the mining industry through its money and its royalties will get them out of strife.
I’m not opposed to mining. I’m just saying: leave prime agricultural land alone.
I was born on the Darling Downs. Some 90 per cent of the Darling Downs is subject to a mining licence of some sort or another. There are going to be 40,000 coal-seam gas wells across the Surat Basin.
Now coal-seam gas production exhausts the aquifers. It entails a process called “fracking”, which causes toxic chemicals to be used in the drilling process. Two of those chemicals are known carcinogens — that is, they create cancer.
They produce millions and millions of tons of salt, which destroys the soil. No-one’s told us how we’re going to manage the excess salt.
And the government is saying, “Let’s go and let’s take the money.”
Well, Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh is set to go to the political crematorium. She’s gone. She’s finished.
I don’t care about Anna Bligh, but I do care about our capacity to feed ourselves and our capacity to take advantage of a burgeoning international population for whom we have the most efficient farmers and some of the most beautiful soil.
Soil in the Western Districts in Victoria and the Liverpool Plains of New South Wales, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, the Darling Downs, the Golden Triangle in Queensland — it’s soil that you can eat.
And a political leader of guts says: “Well, listen, I know short-term economic gain would be to take the money from you; but I’m looking at the long-term economic picture so that I can face myself in the mirror and say I left Australia to my children in a better place than it was when I arrived.”
So we’ve had battles on our hands, but they were all simple battles.
And what I’m trying to say tonight is that, if we’re going to win the battle, it’s going to be through the power of the message. And the message has got to be simple.