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In case of water emergency ... dial?

By Bruce Haigh and Kellie Tranter - posted Monday, 31 August 2009

The management of water in Australia is in a state of crisis. The most obvious of point of reference is the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Rudd Government is fuelling the crisis through caution and a mistaken belief that a partnership between private enterprise and government is possible over the management of water. It is not.

Water is a national resource. It is a rapidly dwindling national resource. Sectional interests such as the mining and cotton industries are not going to consider the national interest nor the rights and entitlements of the rest of the population when making decisions relating to the commercial use of “their” water.


Common sense dictates that water cannot be separated from the land that it flows through or beneath which it is captive.

Trading in water is an accountant’s, lawyer’s and politician’s response to seeking equity in water use, originally for the creation of a market and now to provide an environmental fix.

Trading in water is antithetical to nature.

Nature needs to be given a chance to heal and to be restored if agriculture is to have any hope of sustainability.

Water trading cuts against that and in any case, set against a dwindling supply of water, who owns the licences that represent real water?

Cubbie Station, the real value of which, in the absence of the original flows of water that “sustained” its operation, is between $90 million - $120 million, should be put into public ownership, the earthworks denying environmental flows removed and the property leased for grazing and other non-irrigation purposes.


Cubbie is a failed experiment, just as the massive clearing of land for wheat by the Chase Corporation around Esperance, Western Australia, in the 1950s and 1960s was a failed experiment. The damage from inappropriate irrigation schemes needs to be urgently reversed and repaired.

Agricultural and Mining greed and mismanagement needs to be curbed and regulated.

Australia needs a national regulatory authority with teeth, answering to the Federal Parliament, to manage, regulate and allocate water.

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First published in ABC's Unleashed on August 20, 2009.

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About the Authors

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Bruce Haigh
All articles by Kellie Tranter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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