John Howard provided a leadership legacy on national land and water policy and planning, but in the last 10 years the state and federal governments are offering little more than short-term kneejerk reactions. John Howard said at the press club in 2007 “The way you’ve got a better outcome with this is to clean up the over-allocation which obviously was a problem, do something about making the irrigation system more sustainable and more efficient, and end squabbling over running the basin.”
The politicisation of water has devasted this country – its people, communities, its water ways, its flora and fauna. For over a quarter of a century, Australia was at the forefront of progressive water reform. No longer. Where is the wisdom we need to live humbly and gratefully in this country? Letting the market rip without sound governance, regulation and effective policing is resulting in water trading benefits accruing to the wealthy few to the detriment of the many in the Murray Darling Basin. This is a matter of justice, not money.
First we need an audit. According the Wentworth Group of Eminent Scientists, floodplain harvesting across the tributaries of the Darling is much larger than officially recognised. Satellite image work suggests it is very much larger. Measurement rather than uncalibrated modelling is what is needed. This is an urgent priority. Second we need effective governance to re-establish functions previously provided the National Water Commission and the COAG Standing Committee on Environment and Water. Third we need to include indigenous leaders, their water rights and their values regarding water. Strategic leadership is crucial but where is it? We are in crisis.
There is no light to shine on mismanagement, the political agenda and possible corruption. We need to look at the whole system rigorously, and honestly audit water accounts, track progress, implement change and drive innovative policy based on learning not desire. Are we afraid to audit our water management outcomes and the health of our rivers? Are we afraid of what an audit may show?
That is just as I see it.