More on Salt: Badly Wrong Public Science

Since last Sunday’s feature story ‘Australia’s Salinity Crisis, What Crisis?‘, I’ve pondered whether Wendy Craik’s claim on the program that decisions in the past were based on the best available information really hold’s up to scrutiny.

If funding is secured on the basis of the best available information, even if it is subsequently shown to be wrong, then there is no case for deceit or fraud. However, if an organisation or individual secures public money on the perception that salt levels are rising, that dryland salinity is spreading, or that an area is at risk of salinity, while withholding information that shows the opposite to be true, then there is a case for fraud. And I would suggest the culprits be treated no differently to the former Enron executives.

Professor David Pannell, University of Western Australia, made the following comments at John Quiggin’s blog in response to a question about how the scientists managed to be so wrong on salinity::

“I’ve spoken to people who know exactly how it happened. It was a mixture of several things: failure to anticipate the dire political consequences of defining salinity hazard in the broad way they did (although they were warned); succumbing to pressure to provide results despite a lack of data; and in at least one state, yes, a shameless determination to ride the political wave right to the money-laden beach.”

It is not a well kept secret that senior Queensland bureacrats generated maps that falsely suggested large areas were at risk of dryland salinity simply to secure money from the federal government under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. If the same individuals were heading corporations, there would probably be more interest from the Australian media and other bloggers.

That’s not to say there aren’t some companies that have pocketed money from the same “political wave”, to quote from one email received yesterday:

“The bad guys are not limited to the public sector either. Some of the worst abuses I’ve seen have been by private consulting firms shamelessly providing the answer that they perceived a state government wanted.”

But the amount these companies have received is probably minuscule relative to what state governments have pocketed.

Last Sunday on Channel Nine, Nick Farrow and Ross Colthart went further than anyone has ever gone in exposing the politics of salinity in Australia. They began the program by suggesting that:

“Things are going badly wrong in public science.”

Perhaps the next step is a judicial inquiry.

40 Responses to More on Salt: Badly Wrong Public Science

  1. David Pannell May 31, 2006 at 12:14 pm #

    “Things are going badly wrong in public science” is a massive overstatement. The issues I think are of concern around the salinity issue were not the fault of scientists. e.g. they related to how scientists’ advice was used or communicated, or extrapolated inappropriately. Actually the main problem around the salinity issue is that the good advice of scientists was not sufficiently heeded!! Much of the money allocated under the NAP is being spent in ways that will not achieve much, because there in not sufficient emphasis in the current program on ensuring that the funded actions will actually achieve salinity outcomes. Science is an important part of the solution here, not the problem.

  2. Warwick Hughes May 31, 2006 at 12:56 pm #

    Jennifer you say, “It is not a well kept secret that senior Queensland bureacrats generated maps that falsely suggested large areas were at risk of dryland salinity simply to secure money from the federal government under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.”
    Then there are the maps produced by the NSW Ag Dept to justify drought relief. For years they have borne little resemblance to drought maps produced by the BoM. The same Dept is on record with an odd statement minimising rainfall, at a time good rains were falling, very strange. I guess the Feds are so over-flowing with our dough they care little how money is pumped out to rural electorates.

  3. John Quiggin May 31, 2006 at 4:35 pm #

    As David Pannell says, the biggest problem now is that science and economics are being trumped by politics. Much of the NWI and NAP money is being dissipated on poorly-selected projects.

    And, as Warwick Hughes says, the kind of bureaucratic gameplaying that went on with the salinity maps has been par for the course in agriculture policy (and probably elsewhere) for a long time. Some parts of Queensland used to be drought-declared on a near-permanent basis.

    I don’t think attacks on scientists help us here.

  4. varp May 31, 2006 at 4:44 pm #

    I saw that puff piece for the cotton and rice growers on the Sunday show and noticed your contribution. Contribution is probably not the right word as you certainly didn’t add any crediblity to such a blatant advertorial.

    I was wondering why no mention was made of the Coorong and the horrendous impact upstream exploitation has had on that once magnificent environment.

    Any comments on why that would be?

    Another point I’d like to make should you engage in any further media spots. Get some coaching. You came across as having very little authority both on radio and the TV. I’m sure your industry and political masters will be happy to foot the bill.

    Cheerio

  5. rog May 31, 2006 at 5:24 pm #

    I spent quite some time trying to find information on the groundwater available to me (Hunter Valley). I bounced around various DPI desks and CALM until I got onto their best hydrologist who told me that the water from bores close to the Hunter River were far worse (saline) than those further away. This information they obtained from records of bores.

    So I spoke with a few locals who told me they went down and hit salt and would have had to go deeper for better water.

    Then onto a driller who told me that the top aquifer was saline and there was much better water down deeper but the first aquifer would have to be lined and sealed to prevent contamination. Plus there was some rock, bottom line >$20K.

    I dont blame DPI for not knowing I just wonder why they are unable to be of help. Is this the true nature of bureaucracy, only to see that government policy is implemeted?

  6. Jennifer May 31, 2006 at 5:46 pm #

    Varp,
    Your comments about my “industry masters” is offensive. I’ve a new policy which is I delete offensive comments, particularly those that attack personal credibility rather than arguing from the evidence, from those who use pen names. If you provide your full name and affiliation at this thread within 24 hours the comment MIGHT be left.
    And i’ve never had any media training, but even if my performance was polished I’m sure your would complain … and if you want to understand the lower lakes including the Coorong find out about the barrages. You might be interested in the piece I did for Counterpoint which you can find here: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2006/1640480.htm

  7. varp May 31, 2006 at 8:54 pm #

    Ms Marohasy

    ‘Argumentum Ad Hominem’

    Thats just me I’m afraid. Scots background.

    Ross Coulthart sent me an email with that little latin homily as the subject header. Good to get a bit of latin in to a round of argy bargy….makes you sound a bit learned. Ross is a very nice bloke by the way.

    Anyways….I was prompted to write to you after listening to you on Michael Duffy and his neo- con show. Funny how you seem to pop up with all these flat-earthers, but then didn’t you say you were funded by the Institute for Public Affairs? I think that could be legitimately called a right-wing think tank. Probably why your views and opinions appear to so neatly dovetail with Industry concerns or am I being ‘Argumentum Ad Hominem’ again.

    What’s wrong with going for the person and not the argument anyway? I like it. It’s the bread and butter of most radio and television. If the person is funded by the Institute of Public Affairs then thats all I need to know about that person and their views…pointless going much further than that. Doubtless you would think the same of me, but as I have no affiliations other than some vague, pissy, tree hugger ones (obviously) then I remain free to hold very contradictory opinions.

    I have no piper.

    So delete away….I’m not coming back…you just make me too friggin angry, but I would just like to say this. When you see the mess that your grandkids will inherit, how you gonna feel about your role in it?

    Yours Sincerely

    Ross McLeod

  8. Paul Williams May 31, 2006 at 10:47 pm #

    Bye Ross. Why don’t you pop over to Tim Blair if you’re after some argy bargy. I’m sure they’ll oblige.

  9. SezaGeoff June 1, 2006 at 12:41 am #

    Leave him there – we all need to be reminded what an over-educated ignoramus is like.
    Isn’t the Coorong open to the sea, and after the barrages. Is sea water salty?

  10. Schiller Thurkettle June 1, 2006 at 6:57 am #

    Friends,

    It’s not exactly apparent that there is “corrupt science” behind the salinity scandal in a generalizable way. If the science were truly corrupt, the scientific data Jennifer supplied in her May 24, 2006 “Fudging Figures on Murray River Salinity: More Shame on CSIRO” would have been (ahem) “adjusted” so competently that the existence of a salinity crisis would be unquestionable.

    Bureaucracies fight for “market share” of government funds and a system that rewards such behavior will produce things like the salinity scandal, repeatedly.

    Most especially when there is a widespread perception that those trying to “save the environment” are by definition doing “the right thing” and therefore beyond reproach.

    Schiller.

  11. Jennifer June 1, 2006 at 8:33 am #

    Hi Schiller,
    Consider this one issue for me…
    Until I started working on salinity in 2003 everyone (both sides of politics, MDBC, CSIRO) was saying salt levels were rising in the Murray River and Murray Darling Basin. This information was, for example, on the front page of the CSIRO Land and Water Website (see Sunday program transcript). When I asked for the data on river salinity the CSIRO stonewalled. The data was eventually supplied by the MDBC. Through the process it became evident that key scientists knew that the media, general public and politicians were being misleading. But they did nothing. What would you call this if significant funding was secured on the basis of the false perception?

    Hi SezaGeoff,
    The Coorong is the otherside of the barrages – the sea side. The barrages are preventing freshwater flowing into the coorong and preventing salty sea water flowing into the lower lakes.

    Ross,
    Given you’ve done some research on me, listened to Counterpoint etctera, you would know I have a PhD, so why start the above comment with Ms Marohasy… If you want to be formal, then please use the correct title of Dr Marohasy.
    And I am still unclear as to your affiliations? You aren’t so naive as to suggest that green groups don’t have a vested interest in environmental crises and that the Australian Conservatoin Foundation hasn’t made a lot of money out of the perception that the Murray River is dying including through Southcorp?

  12. varp June 1, 2006 at 10:51 am #

    whoops… excuse I Dr Marohasy

    I’ll just say this then absolutely no more. Been up all night with this miserable flu so pardon me if I ramble.

    I have no affiliations to anyone or anything. I work as a gardener, but as a way of assuaging a modicum of guilt I get $15 a month deducted from my account that goes to the Wilderness Society. I have no degrees and little higher education, but I flatter myself that I have pretty good BS detecting antennae.

    When I was a kid I had one of those revelatory experiences where an ancient, complex, profoundly beautiful landscape spoke to me. It wasn’t any kind of big crazy Charlton Heston kind of thing, but just an ordinary, everyday moment when beauty grabbed me and the natural world made perfect sense. I became a fan. This landscape came to be part of who I am as it also informed the character of those people I shared the land with. The fisherman, farmers and timber workers. All good people and all imbued with this same sense of place. The coastal heath lands where this happened are gone now. In it’s place we have gorge and puke consumption of the most witless kind. Wouldn’t mind so much if it was replaced by a culture or world of ideas that was worth a bumper, but it hasn’t.

    In my lifetime I have been witness to three billion years of evolution wiped out by one swipe of the bulldozer blade. What was once a landscape peppered with sweet vitality is now a saline wasteland. The rivers reduced to poisonous agricultural drains and I’m watching those responsible ducking and weaving like all getout and wanting to put as much spin on it as possible so they can do it some more.

    This is both sad and bogus. Unbelievable gall, but in this rapacious climate of winner take all it can only be expected.

    The Institute for Public Affairs could never realistically be called altruistic. They won’t reveal where they get their money, but I’m sure as eggs you’d find some serious agri business donations in there. I know the Howard govt. has kicked in some. If I have wrongly put you into the industry apologist camp, then I apologise, but I think I have good grounds to suspect your motives as you seem to suspect everyone else’s.

    Goodbye and good luck

    Ross Mcleod V.A.R.P

  13. detribe June 1, 2006 at 11:01 am #

    RE “As David Pannell says, …I don’t think attacks on scientists help us here.”
    by JQ.

    I think John has some pretty construcive comments here, that I agree with. I don’t think the scientists are completely blameless ( I’m one myself) but in the main, ther’e honest dealers in the public domain, as shown by David Pannell’s frank comments and John Passioura’s remarks elsewhere. They do of course get a bit carried away by mis-allocated priorites when large amounts of money are in the offing.

    I do think the Sunday program has value in getting the pollys and their helpers attention and to realise several aspects are being aired with the voters, even if some of those maverick views are not strongly substantiated.

    As far as ad hominem remarks, can’t we just get rid of them because they waste so much of everyone’s valuable energy. They are just an opportunity cost dragging us down. If only we spent more time taking about the weaknesses and strengths of the arguments on BOTH SIDES, we’d make more rapid progress and all learn more.

    They’d improve enormously if everyone used their real names, like JQ and DP do.

    David Tribe

  14. Jim June 1, 2006 at 1:17 pm #

    Or it may be of course that attacking the pollies and leaving the scientists alone avoids the potential awkwardness of examining how it first went so wrong – if the press/politicians misrepresented the scientific facts then that should be easy to prove.
    If however the scientists themselves become embroiled in politics then that’s another matter.
    At any rate , I suspect that for some the real concern is that scientific computer modelling, overcooking of facts, “offering up of scary scenarios” for political ends etc sounds uncomfortably close to another current , topical environmental concern.

  15. Malcolm Hill June 1, 2006 at 2:31 pm #

    Spot on Jim.

  16. Captain Sensible June 1, 2006 at 3:53 pm #

    mmmm every time I frequent this blog I always come across tripe that has exuded from Jennifer’s writings, In many scientific circles that I have communicated with, any mention of the name Jennifer Marohasy is followed by a groan and something of the like “oh yeah, that dumb #$@**…..lets change subject!”

    This blog post will soon be deleted from her site (as it seems she can deal criticism but cant take it).

    I like what Ross described her as…..right wing neo con flat earther. What a perfect description for people in denial that their own self interested actions and beliefs cause degradation of life and ecological viability and suffering of those humans less fortunate to be part of ‘the club’ or ‘white shoe brigade’ or whatever else it is called. Her attacks against true conservationists and so called “greenies” is so adamant that one can only wonder why this is the case. Was she bullied as a young child by a ‘greenie’….no that wouldn’t be the case because ‘greenie’ philosophy suggests that all people are together and equal.

    So yeah…she is paid out to stand for the ridiculous right wing neo-cons – philosophy being that some people should dominate and control the world for the better good of keeping the wealthy in control and forcing the poor into submission. Wow what a beautiful future that would be. And couple that with exploitation of as much of our natural resources as possible with no respect to intergenerational equality or genetic variability, so that the bucks can be made and spent now….oh I love the future eaters….such nice pleasant people….sometimes I think I should join that club so I can have an over indulgent life with little guilt that I am defecating on the ecology, humanity, and in effect defecating in my own nest.

  17. rog June 1, 2006 at 4:03 pm #

    Ahh politics..

    Whilst VARP gazes into his glass of whisky he may reflect on how the now highly contentious sale of the Snowy Hydro happened – the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act was passed years ago by a minority ALP Govt with the help of The Greens, Independents and Democrats;

    “The Hon. J. F. RYAN [9.41 p.m.]: I am pleased to speak to this bill, the purpose of which is to achieve the Government’s intention of corporatising the Snowy Mountains scheme. The Opposition opposes the bill and its amendments introduced by the Government, with the support of Independent members. The intention is to pass the bill in the middle of the night with the support of crossbench members who are in common collusion with the Government – completely repudiating arrangements entered into by the House in the previous session. The Opposition was clear about this matter: it wanted an inquiry into the outcomes of water in the Snowy River before the bill was debated. It is my memory that the Government promised that in the previous session. Nothing has been done to establish that inquiry, yet the House is now debating the second reading of this bill and a secret deal has been organised by some members of the crossbench and the Government….”

    “….The Hon. I. COHEN [10.29 p.m.]: After listening with great interest to previous speakers I am pleased, as a member of the Greens, to support the Government on this matter…”

    transcript
    http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LC19971112037

  18. Jim June 1, 2006 at 4:23 pm #

    Well Jen – I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson from all this.
    Please refrain from involving yourself in ANY public dissent of environmental science in the future.
    The personal attacks here are usually reserved for true believer sites – you seem to have really hit a raw nerve!
    Maybe if you join ACF or Greenpeace these assaults will stop because people from those organisations have no axes to grind.

  19. cinders June 1, 2006 at 4:40 pm #

    I tend to think both Schiller and Jennifer are partly right about the Scientists, yet they are not solely to blame. We are in the age of the environmentalist. With environmental lobby groups with budgets over $10 million spreading the word, pressuring governments, institutions and even scientists to fix the world or to save the planet.
    Reading the transcript of the Sunday program the word salinity could have been substiuted for a whole range of environmental causes including old growth forests.
    A very pertinent quote is found in a new book about Tasmanian forests and how successful the regeneration has been after clearfell, burn and sow silviculture.
    You could easily substitute salinity (or human management/exploitation) for timber harvesting in the following:
    “Environmentalists…seem to have this notion that everything is in balance and that timber harvesting tips the balance towards ecological disaster. For them is is a powerful belief system. The problem that I have, and I suspect that other natural resource managers might have, is that nature doesn’t work that way. You know, you can go out into any if those forests along the Picton and you see a dynamic system at work. Things are always changing. I could never and still can’t understand why environmentalists put so much effort into protecting oldgrowth forests. The eucalypts in those forests are approaching the end of their lives with some already dying.”

    John Traill, District Forester quoted in ‘Seing is believing…Regenerating Tasmanian Forests’.
    If you can’t get to Tasmania’s forest and see for yourself, I suggest you get hold of this book and enjoy the magnificient new forest.

  20. Charles June 1, 2006 at 5:34 pm #

    Jennifer,

    great stuff between you, Channel 9 and the others. I hope you stick to your guns on this one as you are getting very close to the truth, and also where you will find similar sorts of myths and fantasies perpetrated by public science over a fairly long time.

    One of my own popular catchcry’s I use, where I have paraphrased one of Paul Keating’s comments, is “never stand between a scientist and a bucket of money”, and unfortunately it is a depressingly familar scene, endlessly validated as our scientists think up endless worst case scenarios to convince the taxpayer to build and maintain their empires and lifestyle (does overseas conference junkets ring a bell?).

    With respect to rising water tables, in all my years (>25) of working with farmers and on farms in all parts of Australia, I have never seen the classical ‘Rising water table’. Last year I asked the NSW Agric to show me their best example of a ‘Rising water table’. They showed me their Keajura Ck site, where a farm dam had blocked up a drainage line, ………no ‘Rising water table’ at all. Squillions spent, absolutely nothing gained, for $500 they could have got a bulldozer to lower the bank by a couple of metres and their salinity problem would have been solved. Therefore, end result waste of tax payers money and the perpetuation of some public service careers that the NSW Goverment no longer wished to pay for.

    Tunstall & Gourlay are on the right track, the farmers in the TV show are roughly doing it right with the exception of the cutting fertiliser (nothing to be gained from that particular exercise), and hopefully the public will start to realise after a while what a a mess our public (or academic) science is in.

    Every now and then when I get depressed about the state of affairs, I drag out a letter I found in the letters page of a national newspaper earlier this year. In it a person called Geoffrey Sherrington describes his role in overseeing CSIRO project submissions for climate change research and what utter rubbish was put up at times. I get a lot of laughs from it, and I will send it to you someday when I get the chance. It also gives some context on how poor the peer review system is at screening out the grot that succesfully gets funded at times after going through the submission process.

    Maintain the rage, you have a couple of career lifetimes of rorts to discover yet, so you definitely need to keep going, and yes… welcome to the world of the diplomatic Green politicians and the polite way they express themselves. They need to develop some of the niceties of civilised debate.

  21. Luke June 1, 2006 at 5:48 pm #

    Well what a feeding frenzy. All so quick to judge ye on little evidence. Sounds like a kangaroo court to me.

    Have CSIRO been consulted for their side in all of this – No!
    Have CRC Salinity been involved – No!

    What money has been siphoned off and misapplied to what ends. Evidence? Lists? Documents?

    Has any state surfed the ride to a money-laden golden beach. If so where? And what have they done with the money. Must have been spent on something if this has occurred? FOIs anyone?

    Has the alleged vast salinity funds that have been swilling around the decks affected the thinking of the regional bodies over investments in land management and biodiversity outcomes. If so how and where?

    Did not WA, SA, NSW and BRS all assist in the quality control and review of the Queensland hazard mapping – which is not risk mapping per se.

    Do we have any mechanisms to explain the soil health hypothesis vis a vis the dominant theory – not that all salinity occurs in single way.

    Have not the salt interception schemes done a job.

    What’s the current salinity trends – are happy to “call it” at this point and that it is all over !

    What is the impact on the dry seasons we have experienced for many years – do we have a calculation.

    So it seems we have a grand conspiracy that links all state depts and the whole of CSIRO – what a fanciful whopper !

    Pretty slip-shod analysis …

  22. rog June 1, 2006 at 7:23 pm #

    “Has any state surfed the ride to a money-laden golden beach. If so where? And what have they done with the money. Must have been spent on something if this has occurred? FOIs anyone?”

    You should ask that question to those comrades bunkered down in Sussex St as they draw lots for the next ride into Mac Bank.

  23. Luke June 1, 2006 at 8:06 pm #

    So now greens have pocketed the NAP salinity loot. Gets more fanciful by the minute.

    How about some facts for a change.

  24. Schiller Thurkettle June 1, 2006 at 9:06 pm #

    Jennifer,

    This is a follow-up to your suggestion that I consider an issue:

    “Consider [u]ntil I started working on salinity in 2003 everyone (both sides of politics, MDBC, CSIRO) was saying salt levels were rising in the Murray River and Murray Darling Basin. This information was, for example, on the front page of the CSIRO Land and Water Website (see Sunday program transcript). When I asked for the data on river salinity the CSIRO stonewalled. The data was eventually supplied by the MDBC. Through the process it became evident that key scientists knew that the media, general public and politicians were being misleading. But they did nothing. What would you call this if significant funding was secured on the basis of the false perception?”

    I have considered this issue and sadly, I am not surprised. It is yet another systemic problem. A scientist’s career is crucially dependent on funding and extremely susceptible to political whims. Politically, they’re utterly naive and and in the main, timid to a fault.

    In this environment, a scientist who wants to continue work in his or her field will of course not “blow the whistle” or “rat out” an artificial political consensus that keeps them in food and clothing.

    They’ll go outside mainstream scientific consensus if they believe their facts or theories provide a superior understanding, and battle it out in journal articles. But against the politicians and bureaucrats who hire them in the first place, they are helpless. So at most, they are complicit in the salinity scandal by their silence.

    This is one of the reasons why scientists so seldom engage the public when science is at the heart of a controversy. In public, they are fish out of water and the slightest oratorical mis-step may endanger funding for their work.

    So once again, I say, it’s the system that’s at fault.

    Schiller.

  25. Maurie June 1, 2006 at 9:17 pm #

    On Sturts trip down the Murray in the 1830’s he tasted the water at closed mouth and it was salty then,also in 1828 Sturt was heading on land to the Darling through present day Dubbo he found the water in the Bogan slimy as to hang in strings between the fingers ( blue green algie??)and so putrid the horses wouldn’t drink it. He pushed on to the Darling and found the water too salty for the horses to drink, they just stood in the water,he turned back and was lucky to find fresh water in rock clefts.There wasn’t farming or grazing in those parts then.Salt intensifies in drought and disperses in good rains and floods.I suppose part of the “Living Murray”.

  26. Luke June 1, 2006 at 10:26 pm #

    Schiller – you don’t really know. How were CSIRO asked? and for what? says who. You’re making a presupposition of events being like you wish to believe. Here we have a half argued case of innuendo and suspicion but no substantive evidence.

    As for scientists not being prepared to blow whistles there is a steady trickle of “scientists” departing and disaffected for various reasons with all institutions. In general we are perpetuating a myth here of the noble researcher pushing hard against the evil establishment.

    Don’t complain – write it and it will get published somehow. Science isn’t that nice and friendly – it’s rough and tumble and argumentative. Overturn the world’s opinion and you may win a Nobel prize. Of course you might also be dead wrong and having yourself on.

    The argument here and recurrent theme is that most institutionalised science in Australia and the world for that matter is somehow corrupt or not open to dissent. That’s a pretty big claim given the advances in science and technology this century.

    Beating up institutions is always good fun. In general they won’t hit back either. But don’t have yourselves on that you know what you’re talking about.

  27. rog June 2, 2006 at 8:33 am #

    One way to avoid the “rough and tumble” of science is to become politically active.

    ______________________

    12 November, 1997
    Ref:Rep:Egan.1197/je.

    The Hon. M. R. Egan, MLC
    Treasurer, Minister for Energy,
    Minister for State and Regional Development,
    Minister Assisting the Premier and Vice-President of the Executive Council
    Level 33, Governor Macquarie Tower
    1 Farrer Place
    SYDNEY NSW 2000

    Dear Minister,

    In response to our meeting with your representatives this morning on the Snow Hydro Corporatisation Bill 1997, we understand you have agreed to address the following issues:

    1) A commitment to the provision of environmental flows (a term which has scientific meaning) in the terms of reference for the inquiry; Environmental flows: Environmental flows are flows of water through rivers and streams which mimic natural seasonal flows and sufficient to enable the restoration and maintenance of the ecology of those rivers and streams.

    2) An amendment which would ensure that under Amendment No 9 the licence may not be varied so as to reduce the initial release of water, to the Snow River for environmental reasons, as determined by the Water Inquiry;

    3) That all annual Scientific Committee reports and a summary discussion paper based on the findings of those reports be exhibited in conjunction with any review or variation of the water licence;

    4) Clarification that the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation will continue to regulate public access to and use of the waterways of the Snowy Hydro Scheme; and

    5) A Ministerial undertaking to adequately resource and fund the Snowy Scientific Committee.

    We would also appreciate it if you could:

    6) Amend Amendment No 1 so as to ensure that the disallowance mechanism is triggered by notice of disapproval being given within 10 sitting days. This would ensure that the 10 day period could not be talked out and lapse before any disapproval is passed.

    Yours sincerely,
    RICHARD JONES IAN COHEN ALAN CORBETT
    LIS KIRKBY JOHN TINGLE FRANCA ARENA

    ______________________

    Iemma digs in: we need Hydro cash for hospitals

    David Humphries, Andrew Clennell and Lisa Murray
    June 2, 2006

    THE Premier, Morris Iemma, has vowed that the sale of the Snowy Hydro scheme will go ahead, saying the money is needed to build hospitals and other infrastructure.

    He dismissed the value of a parliamentary debate to approve the sale, saying it was not necessary because it “didn’t require legislation”.

    He told the National Press Club that opposition to the sale from Labor MPs “was a matter of public record”, but there would be no backing down. “We’ve made the decision.”

  28. rog June 2, 2006 at 9:22 am #

    Why the sudden interest in Snowy Hydro?

    The Snowy Hydro Corp possesses the right to “collect, divert, store and release” water from melted snow on the Snowy Mountains.

    When power is generated the water turns inland and the rivers get flow. When water is released into the Snowy for environmental reasons no power is generated.

    When the demand for power decreases they can store the water and wait for demand to surge, thats why it only runs to 13.5% capacity. Snowy Hydro has to be pushed to release water to irrigators, there is more money in hedging power contracts than creating power. Profits from energy contracts go straight to Govt coffers yet it is the irrigators who are demonised as the greedy eco-vandals.

  29. rog June 2, 2006 at 9:57 am #

    And now the Federal Govt has announced they will withdraw from the sale leaving the NSW and VIC ALP led govts to fight it out with electorate and the Greens!

  30. Charles June 2, 2006 at 6:01 pm #

    Luke,

    there is plenty of information around that describes the movement of salt in the soil and why soil health is important. Although, if it were me I would not describe it as ‘soil health’ as such, but rather soil having a certain set of qualities or attributes that made it more-or-less prone to exacerbating salinity.

    I could give you chapter and verse of how it works and how it has nothing to do with rising water tables, but it takes a couple of hours, preferably with a white board, so this is probably not the best media for doing it.

    Insofar, as consulting CSIRO and the CRC for Dryland Salinity on this subject, I have attempted to present alternative theories to them on a number of occasions. However, when the discussion starts to get to the point where they see their current theories are flawed and they are going to have to ‘fess up, they suddenly find they have urgent alternative appointments to attend to, and disappear. Consequently, life goes on as before in glorious indifference to reality.

    Maurie, your input describes accurately what the Murray is supposed to be. It is a channel and a way to get the salt off the landmass and back into the ocean where it came from. Anything we do to hold it on the landmass results in what you call salinity. It is as simple as that, and planting trees and other perennial vegetation only holds it on the landmass and can only exacerbate what salinity is already there.

    This is why the whole topic needs discussion, because a lot of money has been spent and all we have to show for it is the solution being worse than the problem.

  31. Luke June 2, 2006 at 7:34 pm #

    Charles – if you are willing to share the “soil attribute” technology – why not put up your system on a web site (like here for example if the sysadmin allows). How can we out there in the world know and appreciate your philosophy from a couple of seconds of TV footage. I am not wedded to the idea that all salinity has to be caused by rising groundwater. Obviously there are different systems. If you have a system that works and makes sense then so be it.

  32. Ian K June 2, 2006 at 8:24 pm #

    Hi guys.
    I really don’t know much about the science of salinity in Australia. However I suspect that scientists working in that field are doing their best within the constraints of their situations. Climate scientists are also accused of being in it for the money, the international travel, etc. Below is a response that was made by one of the scientists at RealClimate to this issue:
    Response: Money and perks! Hahahaha. How in the world did I miss out on those when I was a lead author for the Third Assessment report? Working on IPCC is a major drain on ones’ time, and probably detracts from getting out papers that would help to get grants (not that we make money off of grants either, since those of us at national labs and universities are not paid salary out of grants for the most part.) We do it because it’s work that has to be done. It’s grueling and demanding, and not that much fun, and I can assure everybody that there is no remuneration involved. The only thing that might seem like a “perk” to those outside the process would be the international travel (about four trips per report), but these trips are anything but fun. Most of us have more opportunities than we need for international travel, research conferences like the Ascona one on Neoproterozoic climate are much more fun than IPCC, and anyway given all the necessary travel, most of us would rather have more time to spend at home with our families. When I went to New Zealand with IPCC, I spent all my time locked up in the hotel writing reports and having discussions with our chapter authors, then had to head right back to cover my teaching (and to make matters worse got stuck overnight in Los Angeles because of a Chicago snowstorm, missing a fantastic performance of Carmen by the Lyric Opera, for which I had subscription tickets). IPCC is important work, but it’s not something one would wish on one’s best friends. I’m very happy you liked the Darwin article, though. –raypierre]

    My wife is a scientist in the field of nutrition. She has sat on plenty of government committees, etc and the most she got was some inadequate sitting fee and expenses paid. And when she got back to work, all her other work was still there. There is a bit of prestige with being a chosen expert, but that is about it and such prominence quickly fades.

    As for the Institute of Public Affairs, I don’t know where their funding comes from. Maybe Jennifer can tell us? Secretiveness or lack of information can always lead to conspiracy theories which seem to be stock-in-trade here. I’ll admit such theories are propagated by both sides, however from my limited experience they are usually far from the mark.

    All this being said I do appreciate Jennifer’s willingness to let opposing points of view stand although I may not like the way she sets the agenda

  33. cinders June 2, 2006 at 9:51 pm #

    Just for those wanting to see the response from the CRC for Plant -based managemet of dry land salinity, here is their media realease, which raises a number of points both for and against the program.

    Media Release, Sunday 28 May 2006
    Salinity – too big to trivialise
    The Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity (CRC Salinity) welcomes an informed discussion of the causes and impact of salinity in Australia.
    However, Mr Kevin Goss, Chief Executive Officer of the CRC Salinity is concerned that the Sunday program screened on Channel 9 on 28 May might have left some viewers with incorrect perceptions of the significance of the salinity problem across Australia, the current understanding of how salinity should be managed, and the quality of public funded scientific research,.
    “The National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA) in 2001 was the basis for estimating the area of land salt-affected and the area at risk,” said Mr Goss. “This was the first ever attempt to quantify the problem and provided Australia with a very important wakeup call.
    “The NLWRA also stimulated development of improved monitoring tools that suggest that the areas at risk in the eastern states might be less than at first expected. Already in Western Australia, the area of land at risk to salinity has been revised down from 6 million hectares to between 2.8 and 4.5 million hectares, with better tools. This is very good news indeed, but does not alter the fact that salinity is still a very real problem and extremely valuable assets are still at risk.
    “The Sunday program made several allusions to widespread tree planting as if this was an erroneous and costly recipe being proposed by scientists. The reality is that the CRC Salinity and the National Dryland Salinity Program before it have consistently warned that such a blanket approach is impractical and could have adverse impact on the amount of water available to our rivers. This is well documented.
    “The use of native grasses, highlighted in the Sunday program, and other perennial pastures are significant areas of the CRC’s research. Farmers and their industry bodies are very keen to join with the CRC in new perennial pasture research because they can see the potential to be more profitable, to improve soil health and to use more water, which assists the control of salinity.
    “Likewise, sowing an annual crop into a perennial pasture (‘companion cropping’) as advocated by NSW farmer Colin Seis in the Sunday program is a strong component of our research.”
    The CRC Salinity is a national collaborative institution involving researchers from three universities, seven state government agencies and CSIRO. It receives funding from these organisations and from the major agricultural industry bodies. Much of the research is done on farms in partnership with farmers.
    “We welcome public discussion that continues to improve our understanding of salinity and what control strategies are successful,” said Mr Goss.
    “The Sunday program stated that some scientists could only comment in a private capacity. To our knowledge no scientist from the CRC had even been approached for comment.”
    ENDS
    CONTACTS
    Kevin Goss, CEO, CRC Salinity 0418 274 361
    Dr Bruce Munday, Communications Manager, CRC Salinity (08) 8538 7075
    http://www.crcsalinity.com.au

  34. Schiller Thurkettle June 3, 2006 at 1:29 am #

    Friends,

    I’ve been advocating the notion that “fixing the system” is the way to resolve the salinity scandal, rather than busying ourselves with finger-pointing, so it’s my responsibility to put forth a proposal.

    As I said earlier, scientists are too vulnerable to the whims of bureaucrats and politicians to make it advisable for them to speak up when the facts are being abused.

    So I propose that a tenure system be established for scientists in public research institutions. Tenured public scientists could have blown the salinity scheme out of the water a long time ago.

    Schiller.

  35. Warwick Hughes June 3, 2006 at 6:02 am #

    Charles, You say, “Maurie, your input describes accurately what the Murray is supposed to be. It is a channel and a way to get the salt off the landmass and back into the ocean where it came from. Anything we do to hold it on the landmass results in what you call salinity. It is as simple as that, and planting trees and other perennial vegetation only holds it on the landmass and can only exacerbate what salinity is already there.”
    This sounds as though you might agree with the thrust of the non Govt WA group who have well thought out and detailed reports available at;
    http://www.geocities.com/agritech_wa/
    I am not aware they can get any traction for their interesting canal concepts.

  36. Neil Hewett June 3, 2006 at 7:16 am #

    The precautionary principle provides a statutory compliance requirement to disregard science.

    Scientists seem to place relatively greater importance on defining themselves according to their academic credentials. On that basis, I would identify as an educator, but I very rarely do, even though it is essentially the professional function that I perform.

    It seems that ‘science’ or that being a ‘scientist’ somehow confers a greater authority or credibility or indeed a more privileged access to the hidden secrets of the world, much as other religions claim.

    The unfortunate truth is that they are merely human and as corruptible as any other in any other field of competitive endeavour.

  37. ecosceptic_ii June 3, 2006 at 9:27 am #

    Neil, Science shouldn’t be ignored, nor should there be greater authority to the “I think therefore it is” practicioners of any stamp if the requirement for weighting of risk weren’t so often ignored in waving the precautionary principle.

  38. Ian Beale June 5, 2006 at 2:16 pm #

    Some comments re salinity from the upper end of the Murray Darling.

    1. “In general (in Qld) areas recieving less than 600mm/yr are not usually at risk of salinity because insufficient rain falls to satisfy plant demand and recharge the groundwater”.

    Qld Salinity Management Handbook, (1997). Qld Dept Natural Resources.

    The text goes into detail as to why, and the reasons for the difference from Mediterranean areas.

    2.Qld Murray-Darling map with 600mm overlay (See link below) shows a large proportion of the Queensland Murray Darling with rainfall of less than 600mm

    This information was obviously available prior to 2nd August 2002 when:-

    3.”On 2nd August 2002 industry representatives gathered with media at The Salinity Summit at Queensland’s Parliament House to hear speeches from State Premier Peter Beattie, Federal Minister for Environment and Heritage Hon Dr David Kemp and others”. (See link below)

    Some commenters above should note that the Premier said (of the salinity hazard map) “Its METHODOLOGY has been checked and endorsed by the CSIRO, the National Land and Water Audit and AFFA. (Emphasisadded, See link below). This is NOT an endorsement of the results of this mapping by those organizations, as e.g..

    “In March 2005 at the Australian Water Summit in Sydney I listened to a speaker from Geoscience Australia explain how technology used by the Queenslnd government to develop the salinity hazard maps and other maps used in catchment management planning were based on old technology. I queried this during the question session and Brian Spiers (a member of the Conference audience) volunteered that the Queensland scientists who put the original maps together were not skilled in the technology that they were using. This includes the map Premier Beattie said he stood by at the Summit and that he said CSIRO had endorsed”. (See link below)

    http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/000871.html

    4. Personal Experience

    – We live in an area mapped as bright red (high salinity hazard) with enough community owned data to point to negligable levels of salinity in the landscape.

    – A local meeting (Mitchell, Qld) was informed that “if we weren’t getting salinity from the Pacific, we were getting it from Lake Eyre”. Unfortunately for that scenario, there is a region about mid-way in which salt levels are so low that livestock not drinking artesian water should have salt supplementation. This area is mapped as moderate to high salinity hazard.

    – As mentioned in this (and in a parallel) thread, this Qld salinity hazard map has been used as an obstacle to management of woody vegetation.

  39. Richard Darksun June 6, 2006 at 10:17 pm #

    Is it the individual government scientists failing? or is it the management and funding of public science funding that is failing.

    My observation is that funding for natural resource type research is drying up (some dissapering into the black hole of molecular biology). Under reducting funding there is pressure to get funds from whatever short term research is around hence, “often poorly conducted science done to 3 year deadlines” rather than the 20-30 years of long haul research actually needed (like used to happen at the Charleville lab once lead by Dr Beal) pitty its more or less totally closed down just when more research is being requested.

    Today science is often managed and overseen by non scientists and policy officers who do not have a science background, no wonder there are stuff ups! I think it is systems failure not science failure.

    The latest gossip from NSW is that the NSW gov stuffed their budget and had to sell off the buildings where the forestry managers and policy staff inhabited, now these manager types will move in and take big chunks of the forestry scientists research and office space.

  40. Geoff Brown November 22, 2008 at 5:51 pm #

    Luke says
    “Well what a feeding frenzy. All so quick to judge ye on little evidence. Sounds like a kangaroo court to me.”

    Oh ye of little brain! How many kangaroos are you short in your top BSc paddock?

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