Privatisation of the Murray - What can we do?
Not only has the Murray-Darling been over-allocated and mismanaged but COAG's focus on privatisation, for the benefit of the free market has turned the Murray-Darling into a wild west grab for not land but water, with state governments setting up the new market as fast as they can. This has led to Governments buying-back water for the river, existing irrigators trying to address the impact of non-viable water allocations, the arrival of new market-players and, in the final analysis, a dramatic increase in the price of water during this time of drought. State governments are trying to auction water, farmers are stealing water and there have been massive water diversions, legal and illegal. State governments are appropriating water for free so that irrigators can turn around and sell it to private investors or back to governments!
Australia is in the midst of one of the worst droughts of the last 100 years, yet some states are callously planning to exacerbate the situation and have built or are building new pipe line infrastructure to add to the volumes diverted from the system. At the same time, the South Australian and Victorian Governments have announced large desalination plants to hide their mismanagement of water resources and the privatisation of the Murray Darling. The Australian Government, not to be left out, has offered tax incentives for new irrigation projects to be established by large corporate irrigation companies. As for the Murray-Darling system itself, rivers are no longer rivers, some storages are experiencing significant salt problems and the environment of the Murray-Darling is being sacrificed: as illustrated by the current, pitiful state of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.
Time for Real Action – State of Emergency
The grounds for declaring a State of Emergency in the Murray-Darling Basin continue to build; it should have already been called. The Murray-Darling is being privatised right before our eyes. As governments continue to be preoccupied with the creation of a water market that will only drive up prices and inflation to the benefit of a few, the ecology of the rivers is being hung out to dry. The mismanagement and over-allocation is astounding, whilst the inaction of governments is nothing short of scandalous.
The operation of the water market must be suspended and water managed for the remainder of the drought in the manner our founding fathers intended when drafting Section 100 of the Australian Constitution. The Australian government must support the State of Emergency with all available resources.
Professor Wayne Meyer (Professor of Natural Resources Science, The University of Adelaide) proposed an excellent starting point to define the scope for such a State of Emergency for the Adelaide Advertiser "Save The Murray" feature (http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/feature/ranked/1,,5017720,00.html ) on 31st July 2008. COAG needs to redeem itself and the Murray-Darling Basin States, supported by the Australian Government needs to immediately establish a State of Emergency.
Time for Government Accountability – Royal Commission
Fair Water Use (Australia), and others have argued that the Murray-Darling is not being used “reasonably”, as defined in Section 100 of the Australian Constitution http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2008/s2339179.htm?site=local . It is time for the first ever public Commission of Inquiry to be held into the Murray-Darling Basin, to bring the responsible governments and the water reform movement to public account.
There is a need to ascertain the truth and to determine the systemic causes and consequences of the neglect, mismanagement, over-allocation and this unsanctioned drive for market-based water reform, before making long term changes to the governance of the Murray-Darling Basin. To that end, the new Federal Government needs to show leadership and call a public Commission of Inquiry, a Royal Commission.
Role for Australians – Time for Action
Australians concerned about this state of affairs irrespective of their political alignment will have to rally together and do all we can to force governments, who are in a state of denial about privatisation of the Murray Darling, and declare a State of Emergency and empanel a Royal Commission. The privatisation of the Murray Darling must be stopped if the Murray Darling is to be saved and it is time to do it right. Political parties are well advised to sever their connections with free trade market fundamentalists and enunciate water policies in keeping with the needs and values of Australians - before we are dispossessed of our country, its finite resources and unique environment.
PS Since paper "Market Privatisation of the Murray-Darling" was published on Fair Water Use (Australia) web site, a proposed scope for a State of Emergency has been developed including a proposed Terms of Reference for a Royal Commission and these have been posted on Fair Water Use (Australia) web site:
21 October 2008