Sunday, January 28, 2007

John Howard's Water Plan

Prime Minister John Howard has pre-empted the Labor Party with a proposal for a national water plan. Some reports suggest it took 4 months to plan.

The plan can be found at:
It consists of 10 points, and is conditional on the States handing over all responsibility for the Murray-Darling Basin to the Federal Government.

The 1o-point plan was announced in typical Howard style: big heading, followed by big dollar signs. The fine print is barely reported.

The fine print includes:
  1. the $10 billion is spent over 10 years - it doesn't sound nearly so much then.
  2. Part of the plan is based on the detrimental effects of reforestation in the Murray-Darling Basin. It ignores the fact that at least some of this is designed to overcome the serious effects of dry-land salinity, especially in southern NSW and northern Victoria.
  3. Control of the Goulburn (Vic) and Murrumbidgee (NSW) Rivers is included in the fine print
  4. part of the $10 billion will be spent on a a new Federal bureaucracy - the Murray-Darling Basic Commission (MDBC)
  5. the above new MDBC will be under Ministerial control - ie subject to party political influence. This ought to be a major stumbling block for the Queensland, NSW, Victoria, SA and the ACT.

While the Labor Party has been caught short with the unexpected release of such a policy, the policy does nothing to lessen the effects of global warming or Australia's disproportionately high rate of greenhouse gas production. It does give the promise (hope?) of money for irrigators/farmers. These people are traditionally strong supporters of the National Party, and John Howard's Liberal/National coalition government, and they will appreciate the financial sweetener.

John Howard is creating a history of gaining, and centralizing, political power within his ministries. Here he is asking the states to cede their constitutional rights and hand over power to a body that will be under Ministerial control. *WARNING! Warning! There is danger here"

The concept of a national authority to "govern" the Murray-Darling Basin rivers is a good one. Such an authority needs to be independent of government and free from party political interference, real or perceived. The proposed Murray-Darling Basin Commission ought to be free of politics and Ministers: it ought to have the same independence as the Reserve Bank.

The Analyst