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Stormy weather, no water

By Everald Compton - posted Thursday, 16 February 2012

There is a no more thankless and unproductive task than to have a cake of a fixed or shrinking size and be given the task of dividing it among a large number of people — each of whom is after a larger slice than they are reasonably entitled to have.

Yet, this is the fate of the Murray Darling Authority which is taking a thrashing from everyone with an interest in the region — irrigators, farm service industries, small business, Greens, the five governments that are involved, and lots of others. No-one is happy, and they will remain that way until a greater water supply is permanently available — a goal which is achievable, but will cost money and political capital.

The Authority, led by Craig Knowles, a competent and experienced political operator, has done as practical a job as is possible in preparing a plan for the allocation of water and the preservation of the environment while trying to maintain the economic viability of the region, particularly as they were given a crook hand of cards from the outset.


No matter what they do in trying to answer the heavy volume of criticism leveled against them, a large number of people will continue to revolt. Nevertheless, the farmers of the Basin have no option but to finally face the reality that they won’t be able to do much better until there is more water in the river system.

While waiting for this to happen, farmers will have to survive with less water than they feel that they need. In facing this challenge, they will be very aware that millions of farmers worldwide produce good crops with far less water than they use.

The Greens are utterly unreasonable in wanting farmers to have even less water than the Authority currently plans to give them. While most responsible Australians want to save all the rivers in the Murray Darling Basin, as well as enhance the environment of the region, no responsible voter wants to destroy the economy of this vital part of Australia, and indeed hopes that it can be enhanced to provide more food for Australia and a world where billions have insufficient food.

The Greens should realise that they will not grow beyond their currently narrow political power base until they rejoin the real world and stop being so self-righteous about their unrealistic goals of achieving the impossible overnight.

State Governments must butt out — totally. Their negativity to the current plans, based on serving the vested interests upon whom they rely on for money and votes, is a significant part of the problem. They have no sense whatsoever of this being a national river system.

The Commonwealth should take whatever constitutional and legislative steps are needed to take full control of the water resources of the Murray Darling Basin. If a referendum is needed, let’s have it as, if States remain involved, they will destroy the Basin.


We, the voters of Australia, must accept that a major allocation must be made from our taxes to divert significant capital from the Budget, to give priority to the task of bringing more water into the Basin from the vast rainfall of the tropical north.

It can be done. It simply requires commitment.

Dr Bradfield, builder of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, prepared a plan to do it in the 1930s, and was ignored.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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