By Lachlan Marshall,
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he wants reform to "get Australians back into jobs".
This is wonderful populous rhetoric, but how serious is he about "looking at all options with fresh eyes" as he stated last week?
In regional communities across large parts of south-eastern Australia there is an opportunity to "get Australians back into jobs", with a relatively easy solution from a practical perspective, though it is admittedly a bit tougher from the political side.
All Mr Morrison has to do is step in and demand that water — in recent times wasted in astronomical proportions — is effectively used to grow food and fibre.
This will create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs and play a huge role in boosting the prosperity of regional communities and the nation as a whole.
So, why is it not happening?
Firstly, it is because Mr Morrison and his government refuse to take action on the myriad of reports that continue to question and criticise our last decade of water management, in particular the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which has the responsibility to implement the plan.
The MDBA has become a bureaucratic monolith based mostly in Canberra that has lost touch with the rural communities that its actions are destroying.
It would appear that the criticism it has copped, including from government inquiries, has led to a culture of ‘bunkering down’ in the nation’s capital and avoiding wherever possible any consultation or potential confrontation in affected regions.
In developing a revised economic agenda as we move forward from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Morrison says he wants to “harvest” reports from the past decade.
As one commentator stated, he wants to extract “a new economic agenda from all the reports over the past decade that were largely ignored, victims of failed politics”.
He could do worse than start with more than 100 reports and inquiries into the basin plan, many of which have been scathing of its inferior modelling, false claims and understated impacts on affected communities.
This was never more evident than a Senate Inquiry which made more than 30 recommendations, all of which have been ignored, or last year’s Productivity Commission report.
Mr Morrison also stated his aim was to “get our economy opening up as quickly as it can subject to health constraints”.
Well, there are no constraints for those working on an irrigation farm.
Provided they have water (which at present they don’t) they can grow food and in the process provide economic stimulus.
As an aside, I would encourage everyone not to believe false claims from the politically ambitious Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud who says we are already growing enough food to feed 75 million people.
This was certainly the case several years ago when water was being made available to irrigation farmers, but just as certainly not the case since the government turned off the tap to food production.
The denial of the problem and unwillingness to demand solutions by Mr Littleproud and others in key government ranks is a key reason for the frustration in irrigation communities, and as a consequence the dwindling support for the National Party, and Coalition in general, across large parts of south-eastern Australia.
So, if Mr Morrison is serious about “harvesting” reports and “looking at all options with fresh eyes”, how about starting with a quick and simple step to create jobs and prosperity.
All he has to do is demand that some of the massive quantities of water being held in storage (our biggest dam, Dartmouth, is still at nearly 50 per cent capacity) be allocated for food production in our nation’s food bowl, in particular across northern Victoria, the NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee.
This will also prove Mr Morrison is prepared for action, not just rhetoric, and in doing so perhaps restore some lost faith in his Coalition partner across these regions.