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Monday, June 29, 2009

ABC Discussion deader than the Murray Darling

I didn't think it possible, but tonight we found something closer to death than the Murray- Darling River system. And that is the intellectual prowess and broadcasting technique of the ABC's "Australia Talks" host Paul Barclay.

The Program started with Rob Freeman, Chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Paul kept referring to this body as a new and first-ever single Authority for the Murray-Darling. Had Paul never heard of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission? It was designed to do the same job as the mob Rob Freeman is heading, except that the previous group was headed by former National Farmer's Federation leader Dr. Wendy Craik. See, its all about politics, isn't it?
But how could Paul Barclay be so poorly briefed?

Paul, a personable chappie, had a nice chat with Professor Mike Young, a member of the now-discredited "Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists". Mike is a South Australian. Mike is an economist. And as such, his main argument to save the Murray-Darling Basin is to let the Free Market apply true value to the resource***. Bit of a problem, that, seeing as the very thing which keeps the River alive, the wetlands and riparian zones along the river, are getting drained of water, by the people with the Money to determine its "true value" - city people (and State Governments on their behalf) and multi-national Agribusinesses. How can the swamps and River Red Gums of the Murray-Darling Basin set the "true value" of the resource, Mike? He kept saying "we have to get the balance right" - referring to the task confronting Rob Freeman and his people at the MDBA. Look into Freeman's history, Mike, and wake up!

Immediately prior to Paul introducing Mike Young, Bernard Eddy rang in and outlined the nature of the problem along the Queensland Border, where the water from the Upper Basin fails to flow across the NSW Border, because foreign-owned Agribusinesses are refusing to release it until such time as Adelaide is about "one week short of running out of water". Paul threw the question to Mike Young, who said that in view of the drought, the basin is really dry, and most of "all that water which fell in Queensland" and which is flowing over the weir at St George will dry up in the parched soils of southern Queensland and northern NSW. Hardly any of it will even make it to the Menindee Weir". Paul kept cutting in and saying how dry those soils were. (Paul is not qualified to comment, and as Moderator, ought behave more professionally and not seek to answer the question himself, when clearly he knows little about the subject. His job as Moderator is surely to ask his guest to answer the question put to him, is it not?)

So it was that Mike Young tap danced his way through the Program, ably assisted by Paul Barclay's timely intervention whenever a question seemed likely to be in any way "difficult" for his guests.

For example, when one woman specifically asked about foreign investors holding large amounts of water in the Upper Basin, Paul cut her off with a facile comment about "not wanting to get bogged down in details". Pathetic. The Devil is in that detail, Paul - and you cut the caller off.

Let me lay this on the line to Paul Barclay - the problem in the Murray Darling Basin is not caused by drought - it is caused by over-allocation of the precious resources we have there. Sure, there is a drought. Yes, one of the recent years did have "the lowest inflow in the system on record". But who is reporting the Usage? It is the imbalance between inflows and usage which is the real problem.

Basically water usage rates (allocation) far exceed inflows. Usage simply has not been moderated to match the inflows. That is why the Eildon Weir on the Goulburn River, for example is sitting at 12% of capacity. And yet the Victorian Government is proposing to drain from it to supplement Melbourne's water.

When Mike was asked about that, his answer was that he had done the modelling, and if Melbourne did not take the water from the Goulburn River, the net result would be the transfer of jobs from Melbourne to South Australia (Adelaide and the Iron Triangle).

Quite an extraordinary answer, which reveals Mike Young's true "angle" on the whole Murray-Darling problem.
Apparently the problem is not about water, but about jobs and about politics.

God help the Murray-Darling Basin if it is influenced by the dry-as-dust-economist's brain of Mike Young.

And what about the dead hand of the Moderator of this talk-back program? His interjections were ill-informed (its all about the drought, according to him). And he did not do his job as Moderator of the discussion:
  • Bernard Eddy pointed out at the very beginning of the program that the answers we (Australians) need about the water reserves in the MDB had been prepared by the Land and Water Australia, but that body was being abolished (tomorrow, as it happens), and the results of their study are being suppressed by the Government. And that is happening, most likely on the basis of advice from Rob Freeman and Mike Young.
  • What did Paul Barclay do to ensure that issue was followed up? Nothing!

For the record, Rob Freeman came to his present job, from South Australia. But he got his start in Queensland. Need one say any more? It is Queensland where the MDB problems start with over-allocation of water. The Queenslanders have written the book on favouritism, croneyism and sheer incompetence in administration of water. So, it is ironic that the one of the people Mike Young look to as potential saviours of the MDB is a former senior bureaucrat - out of Queensland.
  • Before this appointment, Rob (Freeman) was Chief Executive of the South Australian Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation from September 2002. This role involved participation in many national and inter-jurisdictional committees.
  • Formerly South Australian Commissioner and Deputy President of the Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Rob also chaired the national Natural Resources Policy and Programs Committee.
  • From 1998 to 2002 Rob was Deputy Director General of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
  • Source: MDBA - Governance - Chief Executive
*** I refer you to Mike Young and Jim McColl's Water Droplet article #10

Pricing your water: Is there a smart way to do it?
  • "Economic efficiency when water is scarce

    "When it unexpectedly gets or stays dry, water supplies have to be rationed. There are two ways to ration water use. One way is to introduce water restrictions which impose indirect costs on many people. The other way is to increase the price."
  • Source: "Water Droplet" - No. 10


Gouldiae said...

G'day Denis,
Nice analysis. I often feel the same about Barclay. I used to think Sandy McCuthcheon would cut off his callers too quickly at times, but Barclay is worse I feel.
I didn't catch the specific program, but I tend to have similar feelings about the MDB as I do about our Gippsland Lakes - 'a few things are getting done, but perhaps we need to get a wriggle on'!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gouldiae
I am sure I was "heavy handed" in my analysis, simply reflecting the degree of frustration I felt.
We have to try, as best we can.

tilcheff said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Denis!
It's such posts that give me the real picture of the problems, ecological and political situation in this country. Much better than the official sources of (dis)information.

ps. there is a little something for you here.