October 5th 2019

  Buy Issue 3054

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Oil disruption could mean a sticky patch for Australia

EDITORIAL Gladys Liu controversy ignores reality of China's interference

CANBERRA OBSERVED Water emergency intensifies in Murray-Darling Basin

VICTORIAN AFFAIRS Tolerance Bill aims to 'eliminate' vilification

FUEL SECURITY As Canberra sleeps, all is well ... well ... well

EUTHANASIA An open letter from WA Faith Community Leaders to the Premier and Members of the West Australian Parliament

EUTHANASIA Unsung heroes of the last moments

YOUTH AFFAIRS Tumbler: Where vulnerable youth self-diagnose as autistic and transgender

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Inquiry into the Family Law Act: that misnamed source of misery

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 1 of two parts

CINEMA EXTRA Unplanned: The movie they don't want you to see

OBITUARY A giant of a man has fallen: Hal G.P. Colebatch, 1945-2019

MUSIC Words as music: Bypassing the intellect, straight to the emotions

CLASSIC CINEMA The Wicker Man: Horror by reversal of expectations

BOOK REVIEW David Brooks' search for meaning

BOOK REVIEW Stabbing us in the back

BOOK REVIEW Admired historian dares his memory



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Water emergency intensifies in Murray-Darling Basin

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, October 5, 2019

The coming summer is looming as a major disaster period not only for farmers down much of the inland eastern seaboard of Australia, but for many towns as well that face the unprecedented prospect of running out of water completely.

The severity and prolonged nature of the drought is becoming a compounding calamity for the Federal Government, with farmers and regional communities rising up in anger about the management of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, together with demands for a complete rethink on water policy.

Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has pledged that he will not let any drought- stricken towns run out of water, as struggling communities across south-eastern Australia face “Day Zero” projections for their water supplies before Christmas.

“That would be an abrogation of our responsibility as governments,” Mr McCormack told The Australian recently. “While water is a state government responsibility, the Federal Government would never stand idly by and see communities run out of water.”

Actually, water was largely a states’ responsibility until the Howard government intervention in 2007 and the implementation of the subsequent Murray-Darling Basin Plan by the Gillard government in 2012.

Almost eight years and more than $8 billion later, the Plan remains controversial.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority estimates that 2,118 gigalitres of water have been recovered from farmers and irrigators as part of a grand plan to return 2,750 gigalitres to the river.

But governments are grappling with the issue of a further 450 gigalitres “adjustment mechanism” designed to deliver in addition to the planned amount.

Theoretically, the additional water can be delivered only if it has “neutral improved” socio-economic impact on Basin communities – if a farmer chooses to sell water to the Commonwealth, that is a “neutral or improved” outcome because that farmer is being paid a fair price for that water.

But irrigators and irrigation-dependent communities say that definition falls well short because it doesn’t take into account the flow-on effect when a farmer sells water.

But that is only one issue.

Anger in southern regional communities is white hot and Water Minister David Littleproud has been the object of a lot of vitriol as demands mount for immediate action.

The Federal Government is pushing the states to get moving on building more dams and other water infrastructure, but this will not fix the immediate issue of water supply.

To date the Federal Government and the states have held firm on keeping in place the “Plan”, which has developed progressively since 2007 as a “whole-of-river-system” plan, dictated by rules developed by the bureaucracy.

The compact is supposed to support farming and other human activities, while making the river system “more sustainable” and “healthier”.

“At its heart, the Basin Plan sets the amount of water that can be taken from the Basin each year, while leaving enough for our rivers, lakes and wetlands and the plants and animals that depend on them,” the MDBA boasts.

Any attempt to change the plan would create an almighty war between the states and the Federal Government, a backlash from environmentalists, and unleashing of legal action from current holders of water rights.

Yet both environmentalists and irrigators have remained sceptical about the benefits of the Plan and the associated water market ever since it was first developed.

Many farmers believe that environmental flows are unfairly being prioritised, while there is manipulation by companies and traders (so-called water squatters) who take advantage of the “water market” to capture water.

Mr McCormack’s promise of action comes after WaterNSW issued grim figures about dwindling supply from dams and rivers in the central west of NSW, with residents in some towns already forced to start trucking in their drinking and showering water at a cost of several hundred dollars a month.

The reality though is that there is currently zero allocations for farmers and zero allocations for environmental flows in the upper river system because there is no water.

There is still water in the Murray, but it belongs to Victoria, yet farmers in northern Victoria and irrigator groups are warning that the main dairy production industry of the Southern Basin faces extinction within months.

Mr McCormack believes that a new water infrastructure body (the National Water Grid Authority) due to begin operation in October will not only have the “imprimatur” to cut through the bureaucracy that stymies projects, but will also act as a circuit-breaker to deliver more dams.

The National Water Grid Authority will help fund the infrastructure needed to increase the capacity, connectivity and resilience to drought of Australia’s water storage and supply infrastructure.

It is a worthy step, but it is likely that more immediate action will have to be taken to deal with the crisis.

Nor does it acknowledge the elephant in the room: the gigalitres of water that farmers and their communities watch flow past on their way to “flush” Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert of salt water at the Murray mouth in the face of the 2018 CSIRO scientific report by Professor Peter Gell that finds that the lake has for thousands of years been naturally a saltwater estuarine lake system.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm