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Time to pay back the Snowy

By Acacia Rose - posted Friday, 11 April 2008

In June 2006 John Howard saw the political and legal writing on the wall: the proposed Snowy Scheme sale was far from a “done deal”. Recapitulating on an otherwise clear determination to sell off the iconic Snowy the then Prime Minister set in motion a rapid withdrawal from the sale process which was closely followed by the states of Victoria and New South Wales.

There must have been something to hide because the NSW Finance Minister of the time was allegedly “shredding” documents before Greens MLC Sylvia Hale alerted the media.

The Snowy Scheme that had been under the hammer was suddenly back in the public domain with irrigators, environmentalists and towns breathing a collective sigh of relief.


Snowy Hydro was considered “safe” from a repeat attack by privateers who once anticipated a strong positioning of this key utility as the monopoly provider of peak demand energy in the National Electricity Market (NEM).

However, since June 2006, The Snowy Scheme has sustained repeated attacks from the same privateers: the Snowy Hydro CEO and by association, complicit NSW Government Ministers. Three, four or more times the Snowy CEO has talked up another IPO (initial public offering) and has most recently, engaged a private consultative group - some of its personnel with links to Halliburton - to “massage” the Snowy Mountains community towards another sales pitch for Snowy Hydro. Targeted editorials in the local media since June 2006 and more recently, glossy brochures and a glossier DVD pleading the case to “grow” the asset in order to “remain relevant” in the NEM, is the determined public relations agenda of the Snowy CEO and collaborators.

Indeed, a considered corporatisation-privatisation pathway was engineered on the back of a promise not to sell the Snowy Scheme clearly pre-dating the first IPO for Snowy Hydro Limited that dates back to the evolution of the National Electricity Market.

Governments may have short memories but people clearly do not. Before corporatisation of the Snowy was at all possible, governments had to promise a “no sale” position. Local communities connected to the Snowy River gathered together in Dalgety ready for a constitutional challenge to drive home the point that the Snowy was not for sale and to ensure that the water was returned to their river. Never before had Section 100 of the Australian Constitution been tested in the High Court and it remains untested despite the increasing commercial demands for water.

Worried that corporatisation would not be achieved, governments committed to both a no sale of the Snowy Scheme position and to water - with real environmental flows for the Snowy River. But the Snowy River today boasts no more than 4 per cent of natural flow below the Jindabyne Dam with little environmental water having been returned despite the clear, legal targets. There have been endless excuses by the NSW Government and Snowy Hydro using, mostly, the drought as the reason not to return water to the Snowy.

The second “lie” after the “no sale despite corporatisation” promise, according to many locals, was the high profile decommissioning of the Mowamba Aqueduct followed by a stealthy, yet highly visible, recommissioning of the Aqueduct. Now, Snowy Hydro pumps valuable “natural flows” from the Moonbah River that forms a de facto headwater to the Snowy River, straight back into Lake Jindabyne. The visual evidence is both insulting and pathetic with a piddling stream of water poking through the stone “coffer dam” wall that the NSW Government has yet to remove to enable ecologically sensitive water to flow out of Lake Jindabyne into the upper Snowy River.


To top off the apparent deceit is the patent failure of the three “shareholder” governments of Snowy Hydro to establish the legislated Snowy Scientific Committee charged with key decisions concerning the environmental health of the Snowy River that would certainly impact on “transfers” of water out of the Snowy Scheme.

During the drought Adaminaby and Jindabyne people witnessed massive drops in the major Snowy Scheme storages of Eucumbene and Jindabyne that exposed the once drowned towns and land sacrificed by farmers to the great Snowy Scheme. These rapid and alarming falls in lake levels were at first deeply concerning then cause for significant doubts in the governance of the Snowy Water Licence. The loss of so much water was a clear break from the tradition of retaining drought storages. The forward “sales” of the timing of water release from the Snowy Scheme along with retention of water for hydro generation in the Talbingo-Jounama system meant that money was still flowing into the NSW Government and Snowy Hydro coffers, but at what opportunity cost to local communities, their tourism and farming income, their domestic water supplies and to the dying Snowy River?

Compounding the stresses on storages and outflows into the Upper Murrumbidgee and Snowy Rivers, was over allocation of licences in the Murray Darling, over extraction, the growth of the cotton industry in Queensland and subsequent diminishing of water from the Warrego into the Murray Darling system.

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About the Author

Acacia Rose continues to campaign to stop the sale of the Snowy Hydro and ran as Independent Candidate for Eden-Monaro in the 2007 Federal Election. She is the Alpine Riverkeeper and member of the Waterkeepers Alliance and a member of the Snowy River Alliance. Books by Acacia Rose: Wind Horse series - set in the Snowy Mountains. Midnight Pearl, Azure Moon.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Acacia Rose
Related Links
Waterkeepers Australia

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