Parliament to Finally Admit Water Act Unbalanced?

On the pages of The Australian Financial Review on November 16, 2010, Sydney barrister Jospehine Kelly wrote that:

“No one in federal Parliament is being honest with the people of the Murray-Darling basin and the Australian pubilc.  The Water Act puts the environment first when allocating water to the basin. 

“Social and economic considerations are not relevant to deciding how much water the environment needs.  Water available for human use is what is left…”

Today Senator Barnaby Joyce forced a Senate inquiry into the Water Act with the support of independents Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon.  The inquiry is to determine whether in fact the Act does provide an equal balance between economic, social and environmental factors – or not.

According to a media release from Senator Joyce:

“It was clear from when the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan was released last October that it was based on a process which took care of the environment first and counted the bodies later.

“Since then, the former Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, Mike Taylor, constitutional law expert Professor George Williams and Professor Judith Sloan all agree that the environment takes primacy under the Water Act 2007.

“It is contemptuous in the extreme for elected politicians to ignore the reasonable demands of their constituents for answers. Both Labor and the Coalition have promised a triple-bottom line that is an equal balance between economic, social and environmental factors. The Labor Party’s refusal to even look at whether the Act provides this questions their seriousness to a triple-bottom line commitment. 

“I have been calling for a Parliamentary inquiry into the Water Act for three months.

“At the start of this debate Minister Crean stated:  That guide [the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan] was limited because the terms of reference it got in the very first instance … didn’t allow for sufficient consideration of what’s referred to as the socio-economic consequences; in short hand the human cost.

It is quite amazing then that 3 months on the Labor Party is one of the last holdouts against the need to look into the Act. What explains this amazing reversal? It might have less to do with the Act and more do with the need to protect their alliance with the Greens.

“I wrote to Mr Windsor on the 28 October 2011 suggesting that his inquiry look into the Water Act. I have yet to receive a response.

“The fact the Mr Windsor has spent the last couple of months saying that he didn’t vote for the Act but won’t investigate whether the Act should be changed defies any sense. How do we reconcile the statement the Act is not worth voting for but, at the same time, the Act is worth defending to the death?

“What is absolutely amazing is the option- in, option-out approach to transparency that the Greens have.

“The Senate inquiry now provides an opportunity for everyone involved in the Murray-Darling Basin reform, and the legal minds with the expertise, to provide practical solutions to improve the Act and insulate it against court challenge.

“I encourage everyone to get involved in making a real difference in delivering outcomes that protect Australians’ access to cheap, affordable food, maintains the family farm for generations and guarantees the health of our environment.”

The inquiry will report by 11 May 2011.

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Click on the image for a clear view of the advice from Senator Joyce to the Senate.

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14 Responses to Parliament to Finally Admit Water Act Unbalanced?

  1. Neville February 10, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    Three cheers for Barnaby, Nick and Steve and the coalition senators for an inquiry into the bloody obvious.

    If this act doesn’t give enough weight and support to the people who actually live and work in the MDB then change the act until it does, because I’m sure that rest of Australia will benefit as well.

  2. kae February 10, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Misanthropes always put humans last. As a human I suggest that humans should be the priority.

  3. dave shorter February 10, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Hi Jen, Yay for Barnaby.I think we should really be talking quadruple bottom line.The fourth element being the humanitarian cost of cutbacks,in other words how many humans have to give up eating per gigalitre taken out of production.State and federal Labor governments have locked out of production enough land and water resources to feed an African famine and still they come for more.When will they stop? Dave

  4. val majkus February 10, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    From my reading of the Water Act it’s clear that social and economic impacts are subservient to this objective (quoting from the Act) ‘to protect, restore and provide for the ecological values and ecosystem services of the Murray Darling Basin (taking into account, in particular, the impact that the taking of water has on the watercourses, lakes, wetlands, ground water and water dependent ecosystems that are part of the Basin water resources and on associated biodiversity).

    The proposals for each of the MDB regions follows the script by first assessing how much water is needed to ‘sustain the health of the Basin’s river systems, wetlands and floodplains’ before coming to the question of what it calls ‘sustainable diversion limit (SDL)’ proposals. SDL proposals represent what the Authority considers to be the long term average amount of water which can be used for consumptive purposes and that includes ‘3% of the current diversion limit’ to account for the effect of climate change on surface water SDL proposals.

    I’m assuming by ‘climate change’ there’s an aspect to the SDL proposals consistent with the climate change view of longer and more severe droughts and less rainfall. And if that view is wrong then I assume the SDL’s remain the same and the environment gets the difference.

    How then to develop what Joyce calls ‘an equally weighted consideration of economic, social and environmental factors.’

    David Boyd’s article makes a lot of sense
    http://davidboydsblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/murray-darling-basin-plan.html
    (his conclusion)

    •we need to specify just what is meant by the statement that we need to “restore health” to the system. Are we not simply calling the natural results of the driest period in our relatively short records,”unhealthy”? Australia has always been subject to long periods of very dry conditions;
    •buying back irrigation licenses/entitlements when there are no allocations will do nothing for our rivers (this really is “phantom water”) and will only constrain production when water supplies are plentiful;
    •if our rivers are “over allocated”, and to claim this we need to specify under what flow conditions we make the claim, then it is the water sharing plans which should be addressed. There is no point in withdrawing licenses/entitlements which under flood conditions may well be a means of flood mitigation;
    •our forefathers did a great job of dealing with our massive run-off variability by building deep dams and diversions (Snowy) in the mountainous headwaters of our major temperate Australia river system. We need to make the cake bigger, by doing more of it;
    •we need to address the efficiency (read evaporation) of some of our water storages, including the Menindee Lakes. The Barrages at the mouth of the Lower Lakes should be removed and the Murray given back its estuary. The proposal to service irrigation by building a weir above the entrance to the lakes should be pursued.
    •the Water Act 2007 (Commonwealth) is excessively weighted towards environmental issues with almost no reference to agriculture and socio-economic issues. It needs amendment, or at least be differently interpreted, so as to strike a proper balance.

    One thing he did not mention (that I can see by another quick reading) is more dams; where these could be built – that’s a matter for engineers to determine – but at the moment there’s an awful lot of water being wasted

    One other alternative is just to leave the irrigators alone to get along with the job for the moment until a determination is made as to whether ‘restoration of the health of the MDB system’ really is necessary

  5. val majkus February 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    and it’s a bit disappointing to see the Land Breaking news leading today with Cobb takes on Coles

  6. val majkus February 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    and in relation to that 3% for ‘climate change’ check out Cox and Stockwell on ABC The Drum today
    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/43878.html
    which includes this para
    In fact, during 2010 alone there were at least 7 new peer-reviewed papers which were based on observation and which fundamentally contradicted catastrophic AGW. These papers include Lindzen and Choi’s follow-up paper on outgoing long-wave radiation, Spencer and Braswell’s new paper on negative feedback from clouds, Knox and Douglass’s paper on ocean heat content increase [there ain’t any], Miskolczi’s revised paper on the optical depth of the atmosphere, McShane and Wyner’s paper demolishing the centrepiece of AGW science, the Hockey-stick, McKitrick’s paper demolishing another centre-piece of AGW, the Tropical Hot Spot and Koutsoyiannis’s follow-up paper showing the AGW computer models have no predictive skill. (end of quote)

    and I say in fact whether or not AGW is occurring or not – what’s the use of regulating the MDB

  7. lmwd February 10, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    Val, thanks again for the links above. Enjoyed reading the abc article, but as always reading some of the comments can get depressing. Brainwashed, is all I can say.

    So the parliament has admitted to being imbalanced on the MDB issue. More like they want to manage the political fallout with all that water flowing out to sea. Nevertheless, it’s good to have the admission. Now we just have to get them to admit they’re being imbalanced over the issue of climate change. I won’t hold my breath though.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that it really wouldn’t matter what is happening scientifically, and even if there are major breakthroughs against the theory of AGW, this Govt would still put in place a tax. It really isn’t about science anymore, and getting Garnaut and Flannery involved to look at the science? What a joke! I don’t know why they bother with a commission as it’s a foregone conclusion – stacked with true-believers and the Greens. All the commission is going to do is waste some more tax payer dollars to shape public perception. The whole process isn’t going to be transparent, and as a taxpayer that makes me angry.

  8. val majkus February 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    lmwd it’s the perception of consensus the Govt want to display; Warwick Hughes has a post up about the commission – check out the comments – not many yet but only up today http://www.warwickhughes.com/blog/?p=813#comments

    The Govt need the money and the backing of the greens – comes down to that I think; so much for the national interest

  9. val majkus February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    and if anyone wants to check Flannery’s predictions see http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/just_the_alarmist_for_gillard/

  10. val majkus February 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    direct link on Warwick Hughes blog
    http://www.warwickhughes.com/blog/
    Vote online for carbon tax and Prof Tim Flannery
    February 11th, 2011 by Warwick Hughes
    Two polls running just now;
    The Age;
    and
    The Australian
    rare chance to have your say counted.

  11. val majkus February 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    It’s a bit disappointed that more affected farmers and people have not had something to say on this post
    I hope they have not been silenced

  12. John Armstrong February 17, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    When will australians get it right? Best practice groups and Landcare taught us that if we look after the “sustainable” socio and economic drivers first, the environment always comes out a winner.
    drynow
    Katherine NT

  13. Debbie February 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Hear hear Val & John!
    Why would we ever, ever, ever want to give more control to governments and bureaucratic departments?
    I have never once seen them do a good job with this type of work. Has anyone else?
    Just look at the mess they’ve made of water management in the lower MDB! Why on earth would we give them more power?
    Of course the environment comes out a winner if we look after the people who live and work in said environment! It is not rocket science.
    People who do not have a personal investment or a personal stake in the area will not and cannot understand what the environment needs regardless of their numerous degrees or their appointed positions! We should always ask for input from the people who actually live and work in the environment. They usually have practical and generational knowledge about their environment.
    Three cheers to Barnaby.
    That would have taken a lot of courage to take on members of his own coalition to get this through.
    Let’s hope common sense and good management practices start to get some airplay in the halls of power.
    You also make an excellent point about dams Val (maybe we should call it water conservation and storage?) .
    If nothing else, those of us who live and work in the MDB can explain the 2 most important lessons our climate and our environment have taught us in the last decade.
    lesson one: We obviously don’t have enough storage & back up to survive a prolonged drought and maybe we should look at adressing this problem and
    lesson two: Water policy and water management has become totally inflexible and beholden to shonky science. It is incapable of rapidly adjusting to our highly variable climate.

    Some good old common sense and some practical water engineering solutions would be a refreshing and much needed focus.
    Thanks also for pointing out that farmers in the MDB need to be left alone to recover. The last thing they need right now is to be hassled about the water shortages that occured during the drought. They actually are rather fragile and need encouragement and some time to recover from the devatating effects of the last 10 years.

  14. Debbie February 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Hear hear Val & John!
    Why would we ever, ever, ever want to give more control to governments and bureaucratic departments?
    I have never once seen them do a good job with this type of work. Has anyone else?
    Just look at the mess they’ve made of water management in the lower MDB! Why on earth would we give them more power?
    Of course the environment comes out a winner if we look after the people who live and work in said environment! It is not rocket science.
    People who do not have a personal investment or a personal stake in the area will not and cannot understand what the environment needs regardless of their numerous degrees or their appointed positions! We should always ask for input from the people who actually live and work in the environment. They usually have practical and generational knowledge about their environment.
    Three cheers to Barnaby.
    That would have taken a lot of courage to take on members of his own coalition to get this through.
    Let’s hope common sense and good management practices start to get some airplay in the halls of power.
    You also make an excellent point about dams Val (maybe we should call it water conservation and storage?) .
    Some good old common sense and some practical water engineering solutions would be a refreshing and much needed focus.
    Thanks also for pointing out that farmers in the MDB need to be left alone to recover. The last thing they need right now is to be hassled about the water shortages that occured during the drought. They actually are rather fragile and need encouragement and some time to recover from the devatating effects of the last 10 years.

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