May 2nd 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

EDITORIAL Post-covid19, create a national development bank

CANBERRA OBSERVED Keelty water report misses the point on water shortage

ENERGY Pandemic has exposed our overreliance on imports

CARDINAL PELL Locating the golden thread

CARDINAL PELL High Court practically shouts 'not guilty'

FAMILY Dismantling myths around family tax benefits

REFLECTION Covid19 and the Church past, present and future

OBITUARY R.I.P. Bruce Dawe: poet of the people

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Doctors of WHO let the covid19 dogs out

INDUSTRY POLICY The rise and fall of Australian manufacturing and covid19

ASIAN AFFAIRS Politics done by stealth in the UN: China and the WHO

HUMOUR Get them hug-dealers off the streets

MUSIC Farewell to an Aussie jazz legend: Don Burrows

LOCKDOWN TV CLASSIC Unique, unsurpassed: The Avengers





NATIONAL AFFAIRS Crucial to get Virgin Australia flying again

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Keelty water report misses the point on water shortage

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, May 2, 2020

The Keelty Report, investigating water sharing in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin, has arrived but the response from Basin communities that have been urging a rethink on water policy has been one of disappointment.

Water cop Mick Keelty

“The Keelty Review can best be described as a waste of taxpayers’ money that must be embarrassing for our Federal Government,” said Shelley Scoullar, chairwoman of the Speak Up campaign. “Concern was recently expressed that Murray-Darling Basin interim inspector-general Mick Keelty did not have the background or experience to address complex water-policy issues and, unfortunately, the review has done nothing to appease this fear.”

It is important to recall the background to the Keelty Report.

Late last year, a convoy of more than 1,000 people, mostly farmers, from both the southern and northern basins, travelled to Canberra with the idea of storming Parliament House and demanding an urgent halt to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Most of eastern Australia was still in the grip of one of the worst droughts in its history, and the anger was palpable among the protestors.

The National Farmers Federation disappointingly declined to back the protestors, but said it “shared” much of the concerns of the irrigators and families from Basin communities.

The convoy carried signs that read: “Can the plan”, “No water, no farm, no future”; while protestors created effigies of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then Water Minister David Littleproud and Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

They argued that the politicians who made the rules on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan had made a monumental mistake, that the price of water had been distorted to the point it was unaffordable, and that “environmental water” was passing by the farms and being sent out to the Great Australian Bight.

Tocumwal farmer Hayden White summed up the mood: “We’re watching the river run absolutely full bore, bank to bank, running down to South Australia. and we’re not allowed to touch a drop of it. Yet we’ve paid for our water. We pay every year.

“I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand. We pay for the right to use that water and then we’re told we’re not allowed to use any.”

In a bid to defuse the fury of the farmers, then Water Minister David Littleproud promised the protestors to “put a cop on the beat” and try to track down the truth of water allocation in the Southern Basin, requesting former AFP Chief Mick Keelty to do the investigation.

But the Keelty Report has now come in with the verdict that there is no “missing water”, that the fundamental problem with the Basin is two decades of significantly lower rainfall.

Education and better information is the key to dispelling water myths, according to Keelty.

The Speak Up campaign, which began in 2015 as a social media protest group to highlight the importance water plays in food production and rural communities, was in part responsible for the Convoy to Canberra.

Speak Up gave a harsh assessment of the Keelty Report: “The five recommendations provide very little in the way of solutions and the review appears to be another delaying tactic by the Federal Government.

“The only conclusion we can draw is that the Government is hoping for substantial winter rains so there is water in abundance this spring and the problems will go away. But we need to get the fundamentals of flawed water policy fixed, and this wasted review will not achieve that.”

Despite recent rains, it is certain that agitation for water reform will not go away.

News Weekly has repeatedly put the view that the Basin Plan itself has helped create a “water emergency” that makes it almost impossible for farmers to manage the risk from drought in this fertile, though arid, part of Australia.

While the drought is not man made, the lack of water for irrigation certainly is. The water that runs so abundantly past irrigators’ lands as “environmental water” is destined to flow out to sea in a wrongheaded effort to keep the Lower Lakes (Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert) freshwater, even though the natural condition of the Lower Lakes has been estuarine (brackish) for at least the last 7,000 years.

One result of this policy has been that a large number of irrigation farms are no longer viable and are up for sale or been turned into “hobby farms”.

The appointment of a new Water Minister, Queenslander Keith Pitt, has provided the opportunity for a potential circuit breaker on water policy, which remains the most heated and difficult issues in regional Australia.

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