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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Friday, 26 January 2007
Big politics of Howard's Big Water Restructure
Mood:  cheeky
Topic: election Oz 2007

Being a graduate from ANU in evolutionary ecology (and law), and a green activist for 15 years, the editor feels no surprise at the general realisation of the necessity of federal government synthesis of state management of water in the huge Murray Darling River.


John Howard’s speech here:




initially reported like this

Howard to control Murray in $2.5bn water grab | News | The Australian


Which soon became a $10 billion package as here:


‘Rudd backs Howard's $10bn water plan’ Matthew Franklin, Steve Lewis and Selina MitchellJanuary 25, 2007




The Australian story announced Thursday 25th Jan 07 p1 “Howard’s $2.5 billion water grab” refers to federal domination over state constitutional role on water resources of the Murray Darling in which most Australians live in Qld, NSW and Victoria.


So just like local Addison Rd Community Centre with some 44 odd tenants where we do 1 day a week landscape work, everything is indeed connected: Change something here and a 5 voices squeak about some ripple effect. Land is like that. Nature is like that. Politics is like that.


Which is why politics can be an honourable profession of mediating all those diverse ripple effects of an interconnected water/land/ecology/society, if one takes ‘the high road’ as per West Wing tv series. Just as ecology is a very honourable profession too seeking to understand all the connections.


This reality of the ecological limits to material growth is why the constitutional focus of The Green Party on ecological health is slowly turning the two major parties on their head: Both are vying for “environmental credibility” over sustainable water and land management now.


What some may have missed was the revelations in two other stories in The Australian – which is increasingly the policy mouthpiece of federal govt hand in glove with Big Capital – of the Greens polling strongly in The Senate p2 (Greens to test Senate hold with 12-15 pc of the vote on track for a quota in the big eastern states:




Similarly they may have missed “Sect’s attack ads billed to Libs” low page 1 highly suggested that an evil slavish Christian cult the Exclusive Brethren was doing the Howard Liberal Party’s dirty work to oppress the Green Party vote:




But as you can see that is an agenda of denial. Time is on the Green’s side just as the ecology is increasingly exhausted: The Government have an ex-banker and lawyer with hardly an ecological qualification behind him as the ‘new champion and protector of our environment’ in Malcolm Turnbull. The official ALP Opposition have an ex rock singer and lawyer in Peter Garrett again with hardly an ecological qualification to rub together himself as opposed to PR skills but the real advantage of a long involvement in green quasi ngo PR projects which must have rubbed off on him over the last 20 years.


The smart money is on Garrett winning over Turnbull in a good political stoush, but it’s still in reality the battle of the moral pygmies on true environmental sustainability in a hopelessly compromised money driven real politik for the Coalition and ALP, of which non ecologists Garrett and Turnbull are both manifestations.


Take Howard’s big announcement some have inflated to ‘a $10B package’ by including the unforgivable failure to spend some existing $2B in budgeted water project money: $500 million is


“to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of river flows. This will be done by putting in underground pipes to bypass natural blockages in the system.”


Now if that’s not a warning to every riverine ecologist then nothing will be. Devil in the detail absolutely.


Then there was PM Howard in his speech to the effect ‘this historic package is to sort out water because the States have failed’.


Well how true is that? Or more sensibly how dishonest?


Significantly The Australian helps provide the answer via the well respected Mike Steketee (MS) feature report “False economy” p19, 20-21Jan 2007 (a ‘$10 billion’ article in some ways) combined with some objective appraisal:




The story is a lengthy deconstruction of where we have been in Australia this last 20 years on expenditure on water and power infrastructure but leaves out some crucial real politik muck of which Howard’s cronies are up to their armpits in. Eh, muck? How so?


Here goes an explanation: MS identifies some home truths:


1. Australia’s population has increased by 4 million or 25% in the last 20 years but just one new water source, desal in Perth, has been developed;


2. The state governments have been stripping dividend payments that otherwise would have funded capital work for supply of water and energy with strong examples in Qld and NSW of the revenue grabbing;


3. The mad economic policy of lumping all debt financing into ‘bad debt’: “This made about as much sense as a family living in a tent until they saved enough  money to buy a house. The first target for savings to support this policy was capital spending.”


On this last point MS rams the point home (without fully attributing moral responsibility) with “The irony is that, by opting for what they thought was sound economic management, governments have been caught mismanaging the nation’s assets


This and the quoting of Minister Malcolm Turnbull are the give away to Howard’s line of blame back to “the states”.


But you have to ask yourself who promoted this mad policy of treating all debt financing as bad, when it really is intergenerational justice spreading the value of a service or capital equipment over real time to all the social beneficiaries.


A big clue is Jeff Kennett’s ill tempered interview on Premiers Past series yesterday on ABC Radio as here:




[go to Jan 24th 07 box]


He balanced the books, but in such a crude and ham fisted way treating good debt the same as bad debt with broad brush Big Business friendly privatisations that he lost the “unlosable election" in 1999.


That’s the Howard/Costello Coalition government side of politics manifested by Kennett which all the other ALP state governments copied ‘monkey see monkey do’ which revealingly Kennett claimed as his greatest achievement on public radio yesterday. No wonder he was defensive. Because he got it so wrong and Howard has got a lot of moral responsibility for that economic mess now from his side of politics.


Unlike first half of the 20C when NSW state budget was effectively national government in comparison to the ostensible federal government (a line from Keating actually), in 2007 all the budget clout is with the flushed federal government. A government that refused to spend $2B of water grant funds to starve the State government’s politically.


So Howard has as much of the responsibility for the overall mess of sustainable water management direct or indirect as the state ALP governments. That’s what an unhealthy, indeed corrupt duopoly gerrymander by the Coalition/ALP versus The Greens has delivered for Australia. Real Democracy this last 10 years instead of corrupt electoral oppression of The Greens via such wicked cults as the Exclusive Brethren would likely have delivered much better, much earlier, in allocation of resources as Steketee argues for.


How ironic that the most fierce critics of the Green Party, the Business Council calls the water shortage “one of Australia’s greatest myths”. Indeed it does ring hollow as rain plummets down away from Warragamba Dam, and 450 billion litres goes into the oceans unrecycled (per year).


In a complimentary article with State roundups on infrastructure


“States struggle to catch up” http://theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21087266-28737,00.html


their somewhat smart alec nsw roundsman Imre Salusinszky reports:


“In a trumpeted infrastructure statement last May, NSW Treasurer Michael Costa announced $41.3 billion in extra capital spending over the next four years, $19.6 billion of which would be debt-financed”.


But he doesn’t report The Greens were lambasting the economic rationalist allergy to debt financing up until that time. Nor Kennett’s role in that economic madness until recently. Nor Big Business role in attacking deficit budgets using debt financing for real value. In fact the reporter commends ‘former treasurer Egan for slashing $10 billion of debt over nine budgets.’


Talk about inconsistent. Was it good debt or bad debt that Egan slashed like Kennett? And Egan's work of $10B debt cancelletion is still only half roughly the debt finance component of Costa's $19.6B policy package. Only half as much. And Costa's package to pump economic activity is debt finance over only 4 years in the future versus the 9 years it took to slash debt by Egan in the past.


That's a huge huge vote in 2006 by the NSW Government for debt finance back in favour after the Kennett "unloseable election loss" in 1999 for crudely treating good debt finance like the plague.


And then there was the huge indulgence of draw down on the social services budget and consequent pain in NSW to carry the Olympic Games for the country.


Our view here at SAM of the limits of Big Party/Media analysis from their own words is reinforced by Elizabeth Gosch in the same article who notes the Kennett legacy in Victoria with this:


"There are problems, too, in transport, where the level of neglect under this Government and the previous Coalition one was  thrown into sharp relief when a transport plan released last year detailed $10.5 billion in spending  but contained no new tram or rail lines, no new tunnel or bridge to ease congestion on the West Gate Bridge, and no reduction in fares”.


The reporter fails to realise that improving ‘the look’ and viability of public transport does ease congestion indirectly, but she clearly puts Kennett and the Coalition inflexible 'balance the books no matter what' attitude into the frame for failed infrastructure investment. Howard today ambiguously says “this is the state governments failure”  including presumably the Coalition, but Howard in truth is part of that inflexible intolerance to debt finance on behalf of Big Business as much as Kennett on debt financing.


Big politics and big media are not really the reliable voice on these big economic matters they would like to think they are. And that from a lawyer/biologist with no formal economic training who at least can think a bit.


Postscript #1 Feb 5th 2007


Some corroboration of the general thesis of NSW very foolish 'monkey see, monkey do' slashing of all debt finance under Treasurer Michael Egan with services and infrastructure going south, just as Kennett did in crude fashion, is provided by editor of the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald Paola Totaro who popped up on 7.30 Report Feb 2nd 2007 here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s1839405.htm in due course.

Posted by editor at 8:54 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007 9:21 AM EADT

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