Water, the most precious of all natural resources on planet earth, once belonged in the prevail of 'the commons,' owned by the people at large, by the environment with its diverse range of habitats for wildlife - nesting and migratory birds, fish, reptiles, insects and native mammals - and available under riparian rights or licence, to farmers.
Cities, towns and villages also had reasonable 'water rights' with fair and sensible management of water utilities, and costs that arguably undervalued this most necessary of resources.
The evolution of the 'corporate' mentality and powerful Corporations Act 2001 has changed the concept and reality of public ownership of water and good governance forever.
During the past decade, the complete phalanx of Labor Premiers appeared to have signed contracts for multi-billion dollar, energy intensive desalination plants that would connect their constituents to the profit-centric water grid and toxic debt repayment for decades to come.
Desal is costly, to the people and the environment! After formerly rejecting a proposed 'water factory' for economic and environmental reasons, NSW Premier Bob Carr then announced in Dubai, that Sydney would get its very own desal plant. Carr knew that industrial water was environmentally damaging and expensive, famously coining the phrase 'drinking bottled electricity.'
Western Australia had already flagged its own desalination plant and Queensland planned a plant for the Gold Coast, while Adelaide joined hands with AdelaideAqua, a multinational consortium formed in 2009 for the very same purpose. Victoria launched its own $5.7 billion Public Private Partnership (PPP), for a desal plant.
Amongst the private players are the international water giant Suez (recently Suez lost its contract to supply Adelaide's water due to overpricing) and Macquarie Capital (also a major water privatisation investor). To complete the international flavour of industrial water in Australia is the presence of the French owned water baron Veolia along with controversial Halliburton, the latter involved in businesses that range from the supply of arms and bottled water for troops, to exploration and 'fracking' for coal seam gas in Australia.
The 'corporatisation decade' has salted the once sweet taste of clean, publicly owned water and the guarantee of well-maintained, safe and affordable public water utilities.
The era of 'public service' has long passed and along with it, democratic processes and 'best-practice' water governance. The voracious contemporary global corporates with their lucrative and complex mix of interests from exploration for oil, to 'ground water mining,' to engineering and ownership of major metropolitan water and sewerage utilities, easily partner with willing governments who chant repetitively 'jobs' whilst signing away the peoples' ownership of precious resources.
Consumers, once the 'owners' of the most precious of all resources, water, no longer have a voice or even a toe in the door of parliament. To cap the unstoppable tide of water privatisation has proven impossible more so with the recent revelations of profits flowing directly to Labor Party politicians.
Water privatisation is hidden within complex state government water agreements, 'buy backs' and overpriced irrigation and 'water savings' plans. The cash grab in the water sector however, crosses the political divide. In June 2003 the former National Party Leader John Anderson unveiled Coalition plans for water trading inexorably tying farm prosperity - at least as a concept - to water trading. John Anderson attempted to reassure Australians that it would ridiculous to expect for example, 'that there would be a Hong Kong investor willing to purchase then sit on Australia's water rights.'
Nothing could be further from the truth. The stunning and bold entry of China into the natural and mineral resources market in Australia demonstrates how easily politicians 'give away' Australia's wealth - politicising and casting wealth from minerals as a 'tax' rather than payment, water trading as a 'market' rather than threat to food security, and long-term domestic water supplies married to moderate perspectives on a sustainable population.
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