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Prime Minister, we have a water problem

By Bernard Eddy - posted Wednesday, 2 September 2009

“The shutters around the important people are impenetrable. Shock and awe will not work. Knowledge will not work. Only a threat to their existence will work." Steve Posselt, author of Cry Me a River, after recently completing another kayak trip down the Murray.

When the Australian public gets a chance to assess the present state of water, the lack of effective water stewardship by past and present governments and the alarming implications of recent decisions on the future of our water, there will be hell to pay.

Recent developments confirm fears that Australia leads the world towards water mayhem: a world in which two thirds of the population will face water shortages by 2025. (Stockholm Statement from recent World Water Week Conference (PDF 24KB).)


The Federal government refuses to allow the public to assess the problem because it consistently refuses to collate and share a national water registry, which would provide a starting point for the long overdue public debate at the epicentre of climate change concerns: water.

Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute said: "Water is a fundamental element in economies, communities, and public health. We know that it is the medium through which climate change manifests its most serious effects. To be effective, climate negotiations must factor in the impact and importance of water for the world and, indeed, human well-being."

How can we begin to solve our most urgent concern if we have no idea who owns how much water and where?

Every state has crucial water management issues exacerbated by ten years of drought. Inside every state border, an unworkable number of water utilities are run by career-focused public servants bent on maintaining an outdated pre-climate change regime. No effort is made to accommodate the urgent need for reform of water management on every level. Political control of the public service ensures short term fixes are the dominant pre-occupation. Consequently, any effort to reform the system from within is met with instant dismissal.

Any outside input on water stewardship is strictly controlled. Experts called upon to produce reports are chosen because they can be relied upon to produce “independent reports” which support the “free market will fix it” doctrine.

Public consultation has been reduced to a window dressing exercise overseen by public relations companies’ expert at “drilling down” at meetings to provide the people who pay the pipers with skilfully laundered tunes.


Along state borders chaos reigns. The devastation of the Murray Darling Basin exemplifies everything that’s wrong with allowing the states to veto any effort to save the nation’s largest food bowl.

The offer for sale “at market price” ($450 million) for Cubbie Station deliberately buries the fact that the Cubbie Group - a Queensland government connected business which underwent it’s greatest expansion under the Goss government - pays a paltry $3,700 per annum to divert 70,000 Ml of water. Worse still, it has built massive earthworks which divert more than half of the water from the floodplain which should have flowed into the Balonne/Culgoa river system. The massive amount of water “captured” by the Cubbie Group in fact cost current Cubbie Chair and former treasurer in the Goss government, next to nothing. Changing the entire hydrology of the delta was exempted from environmental scrutiny by Premier Goss.

The madness is, if the government made a reasonable offer to buy Cubbie’s water - assuming it is possible to sell the water separately: an issue currently before the court - and the water was allowed to flow down the system, it would not get past the next property because it has reserved water rights sufficient to soak up every drop. Such is the way of water trading.

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About the Author

Bernard Eddy is the co-convenor of the Australian Water Network.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Bernard Eddy

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

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