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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Election rivals must transcend their neurosis over the artificial 1998 Sydney water contamination 'crisis'
Mood:  cool
Topic: election nsw 2007

We have a shared problem in Sydney of insufficient accessible water and yet 450 billion litres of water resource lost to ocean outfalls per year.


By my tally ABC 702 radio listeners reckon it’s a no brainer to recycle Sydney’s extravagant dumping of water. Certainly the public have clued in that all water is in fact recycled and a hell of a lot better than dying of thirst.




Similarly crikey.com.au ezine ran this opening editorial which goes to at a guess 30 thousand subscriber email boxes yesterday 29th Jan, a pretty diverse mob in government, industry and community:




The Queensland government’s decision to abandon its referendum on recycling drinking water from treated sewage – because the water shortage is too acute and there’s no time to waste – will probably be cited as an example of government autocracy or even dumb politics.

It is neither. Rather, it’s an example of what governments are supposed to do – govern. Be decisive in the interests of the electorate. Accept the mandate and exercise it.

The same applies to Peter Beattie’s blunt and aggressive sales job -- "These are ugly decisions ... but you either drink water or you die ... There's no choice ... It's liquid gold ... it's a matter of life and death". Beattie is doing what he’s paid to do: communicate.

Queenslanders should be relieved they have a government prepared to shortcut the “system” to ensure they get water that is treated just like Orange County’s "toilet-to-tap" project which will purify enough sewage water to serve for 140,000 families.

The real referendum question in Queensland should be: do you want to drink recycled water or no water at all. It's a question Peter Beattie answered, with alacrity, on behalf of everyone.




Stirring stuff. But that’s Qld. Even when ostensibly rival PM John Howard fully endorses the Beattie approach in Victoria Premier Bracks, despite broad concern as per this group







says its not necessary to go down that path yet:







What about NSW? The Iemma government are hanging tough too despite a front page last Saturday in the high circulation News Ltd Sydney Daily Telegraph, PM Howard’s favourite newspaper, last Saturday 27th January 2007 “Australia drink this” with a picture of a purified beaker of water on high.




The subtext was pretty clear. It’s okay to go in the recycled water, because big tough News Ltd are cool with it, complete with quotes from Howard fixer Senator Bill Heffernan, a farmer by trade in …NSW. On the front page. Their flagship edition for the week.




But Iemma is stubbornly resistant as here




Don't rule out recycled water, Turnbull urges http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200701/s1834969.htm




and more of that below.




That’s a whip hand you might think: PM Howard with an integrated $10 billion policy platform, Premier Beattie in Qld, 70% of Australian press backup (maybe) in News Ltd. Matter of time for the dominoes to fall. Indeed the story running last night on tv and today was whether the dominoes are telling the truth about falling or not under pressure from the cashed up federal government:  


Debnam 'PM's puppet over water' January 30, 2007 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21140715-1702,00.html




As if to to underline the curious political waters we are in its not all one way traffic either:




Acclaimed Aussie scientist won't drink recycled water 1/29/2007 4:02:57 PM



This same expert was effectively buried in the Sydney News Ltd press by running front page of the MX (metro express) free daily of the same afternoon “I won’t drink to that/Water expert cans recycling”. This from the same News Ltd boosting recycled water in the much bigger and powerful Daily Telegraph 2 days earlier front page too. The expert, Professor Don Bursill may well be Premier in NSW Morris Iemma’s scientific figleaf. But it looks more fear than science.






 Plenty of other experts at say UNSW say its fine technically, while the good professor Bursill refers to human error in 75% of cases of contamination in Europe over 80 case studies.




But this writer strongly suspects the real political obstacle is not science, or even human error which can be managed. It is corporate memory from a nasty political experience 8 years ago of a local water contamination crisis, where recycled water had no role to play, proving if anything that contamination can occur regardless.




Minister Craig Knowles was in charge of resolving the crisis around cryptosporidium, giardia etc which apparently are naturally occurring at low levels anyway, but are no good for the immune suppressed, or for food preparation etc. For weeks there was no ice for business from tap water. Bottled water and boiling became a back up strategy. The Big Media including Sydney Daily Telegraph were pumping out the political alarm bells full bore.




But this was 1998 when Warragamba Dam supplies were full. When climate change scepticism was still plausible, and respectable even. It was even before google existed as a tool on the internet, and thus you may not find very much history on the web. We at SAM probably have a few choice articles tucked away in our extensive files but this Hansard from 1998 gives a taste (!) of the intensity of the times:







This looks to be pretty balanced analysis too (though not fully checked out) about reality versus pereception in 1998, in the lead up to the 1999 March election in NSW:







and here is likely to be a carefully researched and balanced reference document only partly extracted here:








The point is that 1998 is a very different time to now. Not least the bipartisan desire for sustainable water solutions and the political imperative to avoid being seen as counter productive in a quite urgent debate: Notice still ‘political’ debate as all big issues are, but evidence based and constructive, or be condemned for wasting everyone’s time as well as scarce water.




Could the NSW ALP government and Opposition be stuck in that 1998 time warp of emotional impact still over a superficial contamination ‘crisis’? It feels like it.




Some corroboration comes too from the environement writer for a major daily who suggests to this writer by phone today that Murray Hogarth environment writer at the time for Sydney Morning Herald ran a big feature in the Good Weekend colour magazine showing that essentially the 1998 water scare was a beat up and phoney.


Mmm. There is that perception versus reality thing again: In 1998 unrecycled pretty clean water said to be risky for scandal mongering reasons, and in 2007 recycled water even cleaner than drinking standard yet again somehow risky?



That's no way to make good public policy. Leadership is the question not water quality. The same journo asked this writer what do you think the Premier will do - water recycling or desalination plant, or both? The cynic in me said expensive desal plant from ocean water to make the construction unions happy, the idealist said water recycling as more sustainable, but quite possibly both.

I also suggested the best outcome for NSW was a minority ALP government like the Greiner/Fahey Coalition 1991-95 subject to the discipline of impressive cross bench independents.

Posted by editor at 12:22 PM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007 10:49 AM EADT

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