I have it on good advice, from the cabbie who drove me to the airport in Canberra recently, that South Australian senator Nick Xenophon is the most powerful politician in Australia.
Mr Xenophon is certainly demanding the attention of the most powerful politician officially, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, by insisting on more water for South Australia in return for the passage of the economic stimulus package.
Now he is backing a possible constitutional challenge by South Australia to remove barriers to water trade in Victoria.
By backing this legal action, he will in effect be supporting the federal bureaucracy against the states – presumably only because he believes it is the federal government that will act in the interests of South Australia.
Given its continual dominance of the national water agenda, it is probably a safe bet.
During the Howard years, South Australians, Nick Minchin and Alexandra Downer, ensured cabinet decisions, including on water, never disadvantaged them.
Now, South Australians can lay claim to not only Mr Xenophon, but also the federal Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong.
Then there is also Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who, also from South Australia, tends to chime in whenever Mr Xenophon takes the running on an issue.
Last Friday, she repeated Mr Xenophon’s claim that the survival of South Australia’s Lower Lakes and Coorong was dependent on the Federal Government taking control of the Murray River.
Of course it theoretically already has control through the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
But there’s a snag: neither Ms Wong or Mr Rudd can make it rain.
They can try and get more water from places where it is raining, like “Tooralee”, down to South Australia, but it’s a long way, and there will be significant losses along the way.
However, there is a simple solution to the problem of the lower lakes and Coorong: they only need to open the barrages currently holding back the sea for the area to become flooded with seawater as it was when Charles Sturt first visited the area in 1830.
But if South Australia started solving its own problems, it might become irrelevant nationally and then they wouldn’t have the most powerful politician in Australia.
First published in The Land newspaper. Rural Press also publish a daily e-newsletter, click here to subscribe.
The photograph of the seagull was taken at the mouth of the Murray River – beyond the barrages – in April 2007 by Jennifer Marohasy.
I think you are right Jen, the area has a right to an ecology and if it can’t get it from the fresh water then it has to get from the sea water, like it did originally.
Ngarrindjeri elder, TomTom Trevorrow tells how it was before the fresh water.
They’d probably have to diversify from dairy cows and wine grapes…….. how about tasty salt bush lamb instead.
Louis Hissink says
The whole mess really stems from government interference at all levels.
Is there anything on this earth government has not stuffed up?
Louis – governments only do what they believe to be the will of the people.
People have stuffed up.
We will continue to do so in the great tradition of people stuffing up!
Louis Hissink says
Not from my experience with ALP types.
Ian Mott says
If you think the price of maintaining the Murray Barrages is high already, wait till you read the climatic fine print.
The aspect of this whole circus that really makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up is the fact that Wong, in her other role as Minister for Climate Change, has accepted as incontestable fact the notion that sea level will rise by 1 metre by year 2100.
And that will render the barrage, and the entire irrigation works on the lakes edge and lower Murray redundant in less than 40 years. The barrage works were designed to maintain the fresh water level about 50cm above sea level so that water can be gravity fed to the low lying farms that were once tidal wetlands while still maintaining river discharges into the sea.
So is this “Bimbo for Climate Change” aware that the solution she is demanding is only a very short term one? The maintenance of an artificial fresh water lake at the expense of the rest of the catchment will become hideously expensive as sea level rises. Not only will the Barrage need to be raised but the entire lake shore, and the lower banks of the Murray, will need a complex system of raised levies in place to maintain the lake level at a height that will allow continued outflow of Murray waters to the sea while avoiding innundation of the adjoining farms and towns.
Any sea level rise that is greater than 1 metre, as many within the ministers own department, and their green movement masters, believe is absolutely certain, will speed up the day when the current water buy backs are proven to be futile.
So there is absolutely no excuse for Wong, her advisors, and particularly the Director General of her Department, to not be fully aware that what they are proposing is not the salvation of a river system at all. They must be fully aware that what they are calling for is a hideously expensive, and economically destructive, short-term, parochial, landscaping band-aid.
Salt water Lake Alexandrina.
What the pioneer fishers did and what a modern fisher might do with a similar ecology will be interesting.
Alexandrina Oysters anyone?
Ian Mott says
And prawns, crabs and all the other estuarine species that the green movement apparently feels not a scrap of remorse for their absence. The contrast in green hypocrisy is breathtaking.
On one hand we see local green campaigners all over the country raising cain over some minor impact on the most obscure local drainage features while major, and absolutely fundamental modifications to the entire estuary of our largest river system are subject to a deadly silence. Indeed, they have thrown their full support behind the maintenace of those modifications at hideous expense.
And they wonder why no-one believes a word they say anymore?
Opening Lake Alexandrina to the sea would eventually turn the lake hypersaline eg. The Coorong. I agree this is an alternative however enough freshwater must be allowed to flow into the lake to prevent it turning hypersaline. Half the Coorong is now 100,000 EC+ nothing but brine shrimp lives in water that salty.