THERE has been much written about Australia’s national character emerging from a bush ethos: the idea that a specifically Australian outlook emerged first amongst workers in the Australian outback. Banjo Paterson, perhaps more than any other writer, created and defined this cultural heritage. His story about the shearer and his sheep (the jumbuck) remains our most popular national song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. I grew up on ‘The Man from Snowy River’; a poem about a courageous young horseman who out-rides wild brumbies in the High Country.
But few Australians now have anything much to do with the bush. They mostly live in cities, don’t know how to ride a horse and go to the beach for their holidays. They just singing about sheep at sporting events and read poems about mighty rivers and like the idea of saving the outback. And so it seems every new Australia government makes saving the Murray River part of their platform.
The previous Howard government was going to save the Murray from salinity – and achieved this through the construction of salt interception schemes and catchment wide drainage plans all administered by the Murray Darling Basin Commission.
The new Rudd Government wants to save the Murray from climate change. This is a much more ambitious undertaking than saving the Murray from salt.
As part of this campaign the new government has new legislation, The Water Amendment Bill 2008, and it is currently being debated in federal parliament with its second reading beginning last week. A centre piece of the new legislation is the creation of a ‘The Murray Darling Basin Authority’. This new institution is claimed to be needed because the existing Murray Darling Basin Commission doesn’t have enough control over the states, but in reality the new organisation, like the old, will still be subject to state politics. In short, nothing much will change, but it keeps the politicians in politics.
Politician and new Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, plans to relieve the claimed climate change problem by buying up farms; most recently through the purchase of a 91,000 hectare property called Tooralee near Burke in NSW. Tooralee currently grows maize, cotton and beef cattle but following the federal government takeover will be converted to national park.
Internet campaigners ‘GetUp’ helped get the Rudd-government elected, and have recently joined ‘the fray’ on Murray River issues claiming to provide an opportunity for Australians “to keep the rivers flowing” and save “Australia’s food bowl” through a few mouse-clicks. But this new campaign is particularly deceptive as Penny Wong’s policies will actually close-down agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin i.e. empty the food bowl! Indeed the federal government has something like $3.6 billion to buyback farms like Tooralee.
Furthermore, as some farmers explained on ABC’s TV’s Four Corners program on Tuesday night, you can’t buy back rivers, not even with billions of dollars, because water allocations are just air space until it rains.
But hey, modern Australia’s are now a mostly soft and gullible lot and likely to support this campaign which is essentially a campaign in support of more politics and big government and against bushies because they now know no better. But none of this makes senses in the context of our heritage which was about being practical and a part of the bush – the floods and the droughts and the climate change.