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. Others followed, and were even more blatantly told to get lost. On two recent occasions in this newsletter, I submitted a workable plan to achieve it, based on sound professional advice that I specifically sought.
Thankfully, I got some positive responses the first time, and even more the second time. Thus, I am now encouraged to have a third try at creating some ‘movement at the station’ for action to happen, as the current fiasco in the Murray Darling Basin has set the scene for it to get serious consideration, as good people are now out there protesting passionately about the bleak future that Australia’s greatest farming region is now facing.
This time, I have strong support from Sydney water engineer, Terry Bowring, who has published a number of innovative and practical plans on how to capture the water and bring it south at the lowest possible cost.
Already, a number of well-meaning people who operate in a sad world of negativity have told us that we will lose most of the water through evaporation (which is not true), that we will cause big salination problems, soil erosion and every other negative issue that is equally biased, but makes them feel useful. I ignore them.
To get the job done, we just have to face these facts:
• The Murray Darling is a national gem that must be preserved and enhanced.
• We cannot delay in finding a solution. We have procrastinated for far too long. The time to make a decision is right now. Today!
• There is a double benefit, as the same plan to divert water from the north will open-up to new agriculture the vast blacksoil plains just south of the Gulf, and we can move our rice and cotton industries up there from the Murray Darling, thereby saving a lot of water which will ensure that the fundamental irrigation needs of the Basin are met.
• If five million dollars of Federal funds can be allocated for the task immediately, a small group of us can get a top quality engineering and environmental team together, to have a preliminary study completed within six months, that can verify its feasibility in principle and allow a decision to be made on proceeding to full feasibility.
• Water can be flowing into the Murray Darling by the end of this decade, and it will cost less than was spent on the Building Education Revolution and Pink Bats.
As Margaret Thatcher said 50 years ago: “We need people in Parliament who will do something, rather than want to be someone.”
Let’s go. It could be that we can capture once more the visionary spirit that inspired us at the Snowy Mountains 60 years ago.