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Gittins on the Water Plan

May 30th, 2007

Ross Gittins says of the government’s $10 billion National Plan for Water Security “They don’t want to fix problems, just be seen trying“. As has become abundantly clear from Channel 7′s FOI exercise, the whole thing was cooked up in a week or so, with the aim of countering a co-operative initiative launched by Kevin Rudd. Once it was out, the problem was that the only policy that would have any real effect, buying back water rights, was vetoed by the Nationals. So, in the Budget, the whole Plan was kicked into touch until 2008-09, by which time the election would be safely out of the way.

I had an initial assessment here, when there still seemed to be some chance the Plan would work, and an evaluation more similar to Gittins not long ago.

I have been very disappointed in Turnbull’s performance on this issue. He obviously knows what needs to be done, and if anyone had the capacity to ride roughshod over the Nats, I would have thought he did. I can only conclude that, having been put into the job by Howard, he has had no backing and has been, in effect, set up to fail.

(Thanks to Tim Coelli for pointing me to this piece).

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  1. May 30th, 2007 at 19:43 | #1

    It’s almost as good as the ‘children overboard’ lie in terms of political theatre. Of course, the real question is how much of a ‘rainmaker’ JH is. The ‘El Nino is over and we’ve had good rains’ is fair enough for the last few months but come July when the rain depends upon the position of the circumpolar front and not El Nino the story may change. This last El Nino was not particularly strong and the fashion of using it as an excuse is going to start to wear pretty thin soon for citizens in the south eastern cities.

  2. May 30th, 2007 at 20:54 | #2

    We won’t see the best of Turnbull until after the election and he becomes leader, that’s if he holds his seat. ATM he’s in a policy straitjacket imposed by Howard, so he’s been reduced to lobbying to save the whales (and other non-controversial issues*) much like his predecessor.

    * Andrew Bolt excepted

  3. Jill Rush
    May 31st, 2007 at 20:21 | #3

    The problem with the announcement of the $10 billion is that eyes glaze over when the zeros go off the page.The lack of detail and the reservations of the states are other concerns.

    Whilst the money would be welcome the track record of the government is not good. Where has all of the Telstra money gone for instance which was meant to save the Murray. Or is the $10 billion that money?

  4. observa
    May 31st, 2007 at 23:07 | #4

    Whilst I agree with Gittins and your critique of the Howard plan too, I would have thought you would have had a lot more empathy for the Howard approach than Gittins or I John.
    After all as Gittins points out-
    “But ending the interminable squabbling between the four Murray-Darling states and transferring overall responsibility to the national government is the one thing Howard’s plan has going for it.”
    and isn’t that largely your stance with Kyoto? Basically that hasn’t worked, or is at best seriously flawed so far, yet you think it’s an important first step. In other words it’s sometimes important with imperative issues to be stronger on politics than policy, to cut through and get cracking, like Howard is, with all those attractive noughts as Jill so eloquently puts it. Yes Howard wants to spend money on pipes the irrigators wouldn’t normally spend themselves, but then you proclaimed here, you were responsible for the Rudd policy to subsidise uneconomic rain water tanks too as I recall. The ones that my local council installed in their civic centre, which I showed would cost over 10 times what SA Water supply it for. Heaven knows what multiple that would be for backyard domestic tanks. I guess Gittens and I can be purists here because we’re largely impotent in these matters, other than paying the taxes for all this ‘strong on politics’ stuff.

  5. myriad
    June 1st, 2007 at 12:33 | #5

    Gittins’ assessment is excellent, but I think one of the things it misses is that whilst it’s possible to conclude that Howard’s $10billion plan is not sincere on his part, in the meantime it has been the basis for major changes to the public service, and is driving vast amounts of work. IE Howard might not be taking his own plan seriously, but the public service has to, and is responding accordingly.

    To give a short snapshot of the changes in water policy in the last few years under Howard we’ve had:

    The National Water Inititive, a COAG agreement with $2 billion attached that created the National Water Commission, which reported direct to PM&C, and created a new Secretary for Water (Turnbull) reporting direct to the PM. The Commission was also tasked with coordinating water policy response from Depts. of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and (the then) Environment and Heritage (DEH).

    Then when that was only 18 months at most into its work, late last year we got the Office of Water Resources, which allegedly absorbed the National Water Commission and would ‘coordinate whole of government response’ on water – ie across all portfolios. It was unclear what was meant to happen to the DAFF & DEH policy roles.

    Recruitment for that hadn’t even started when we then got out of the blue total restructure which resulted in the new Dept. of Environment and Water Resources, which absorbed the National Water Comission, several policy branches from DAFF, and presumably either subsumed or replaced the Office of Water Resources before it even had begun.

    These are major shifts internally for the public service. On top of that, the $10 billion plan created a mountain of work, not least being the drafting of legislation to take over the relevant state constitutional powers – and if I recall correctly that legislation is meant to be ready now!

    With all that change, one has to wonder how the relevant government depts. are able to complete any of their core business, and for that matter keep track of what that is. And all this is meant to be Howard’s answer to the threat of climate change to Australia’s water resources as well, yet there is no sign of clear coordination of this.

    My point is, it would be good to see commentators separate out the difference between saying a politician is not serious about something, and the implications their ‘initiatives’ have on public service function, whether federal or state. Saying that the politician isn’t serious belies the massive amount of work that gets done, and the changes that are made with major implications, that are all the more egregious if the politician in question isn’t even serious about it.

  6. observa
    June 1st, 2007 at 13:26 | #6

    I guess at the end of the day and at the end of the Murray Darling drain myriad, I’m less concerned about the sincerity of the politics and more concerned about policy outcomes. At present it seems that on the one hand I have Howard and Co blowing my hard earned on subsidised pipes to protect his Nats constituency, whilst Rudd and Co would blow it on subsidised backyard tanks to protect Bracks constituency, when all I sincerely want is the right to bid for all the water I can afford, in order to avoid Rann’s water restrictions. As for the stress of public servants in accommodating subsidised pipes or tanks policies, I sincerely wish a free market in water, totally relieves them of any such trauma.

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