The Conversation website contains considered discussion on issues of importance. One of the key issues for this region is a sustainable and secure water supply, and Barry Hart from Monash University, and Avril Horne and Erin O'Donnell from the University of Melbourne have addressed the issue in detail. An important conversation to be had before election day.
Their piece is reprinted with permission below.
Ahead of the election, the major parties have released different visions for developing northern Australia. The Coalition has committed to dam projects across Queensland; Labor has pledged to support the tourism industry.
These pledges build on the Coalition’s A$5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a fund to support large projects, starting on July 1.
The Coalition has pledged A$20 million to support 14 new or existing dams across Queensland should the government be returned to power, as part of a A$2.5 billion plan for dams across northern Australia.
Labor, meanwhile, will redirect A$1 billion from the fund towards tourism, including eco-tourism, indigenous tourism ventures and transport infrastructure (airports, trains, and ports).
It is well recognised that the development of northern Australia will depend on harnessing the north’s abundant water resources. However, it’s also well recognised that the ongoing use of water resources to support industry and agriculture hinges on the health and sustainability of those water resources.
Northern Australia is home to diverse ecosystems, which support a range of ecosystem services and cultural values, and these must be adequately considered in the planning stages.
Sustainability comes secondThe white paper for northern Australia focuses almost solely on driving growth and development. Current water resource management policy in Australia, however, emphasises integrated water resource planning and sustainable water use that protects key ecosystem functions.
Our concern is that the commitment to sustainability embedded in the National Water Initiative (NWI), as well as Queensland’s water policies, may become secondary in the rush to “fast track” these water infrastructure projects.
Lessons from the past show that the long-term success of large water infrastructure projects requires due process, including time for consultation, environmental assessments and investigation of alternative solutions.
What is on the table?The Coalition proposes providing funds to investigate the feasibility of a range of projects, including upgrading existing dams and investigating new dams. The majority of these appear to be focused on increasing the reliability of water supplies in regional urban centres. Few target improved agricultural productivity.
These commitments add to the already proposed feasibility study (A$10 million) of the Ord irrigation scheme in the Northern Territory and the construction of the Nullinga Dam in Queensland. And the A$15 million northern Australia water resources assessment being undertaken by CSIRO, which is focused on the Fitzroy river basin in Western Australia, the Darwin river basins in Northern Territory and the Mitchell river basin in Queensland.
Rethinking damsNew water infrastructure in the north should be part of an integrated investment program to limit overall environmental impacts. Focusing on new dams applies 19th-century thinking to a 21st-century problem, and we have three major concerns about the rush to build dams in northern Australia.
First, the process to establish infrastructure priorities for federal investment is unclear. For instance, it’s uncertain how the projects are connected to Queensland’s State Infrastructure Plan.
Investment in new water infrastructure across northern Australia needs to be part of a long-term water resource plan. This requires clearly articulated objectives for the development of northern Australia, along with assessment criteria that relate to economic, social and environmental outcomes, such as those used in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Second, the federal government emphasises on-stream dams. Dams built across the main river in this way have many well-recognised problems, including:
As a minimum, new dams should be built away from major waterways (such as on small, tributary streams) and designed to minimise environmental impacts. This requires planning in the early stages, as such alternatives are extremely difficult to retrofit to an existing system.
Finally, the federal government proposals make no mention of climate change impacts. Irrigation and intensive manufacturing industries demand highly reliable water supplies.
While high-value use of water should be encouraged, new industries need to be able to adapt for the increased frequency of low flows; as well as increased intensity of flood events. Government investment needs to build resilience as well as high-value use.
Detailed planning, not press releasesIn place of the rather ad hoc approach to improvements in water infrastructure, such as the projects announced by the federal government in advance of the election, we need a more holistic and considered approach.
The A$20 million investment for 14 feasibility studies and business cases in Queensland represents a relatively small amount of money for each project, and runs the risk of having them undertaken in isolation. The feasibility studies should be part of the entirety of the government’s plan for A$2.5 billion in new dams for northern Australia.
Water resource planning is too important and too expensive to cut corners on planning. Investment proposals for Queensland need to be integrated with water resource planning across the state, and across northern Australia, and with appropriate consideration of climate change impacts.
Fast tracking dams without considering ecosystem impacts, future variability in water supplies, and resilience in local communities merely sets the scene for future problems that will likely demand another round of intervention and reform.
It is difficult making good health choices for many reasons. And one of the key issues is hidden sugar.
While Mary Poppins told us a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, too many spoons of sugar make us very sick. And our modern diet has more sugar in it than it ever did.
In the last 20 years, the amount of sugar each person consumes yearly in the United States has soared from 12 kgs per person to more than 61 kgs per person, with similar changes all over the world. Since 1983, sugar consumption has been steadily increasing every year by an average of 28%, fueling an epidemic of obesity, dental disease, diabetes and other health problems.
An analysis of 175 countries over the past decade showed that when you look for the cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant. It’s the specific calories that count. When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent. But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories
The American Heart foundation when exploring the relationship between dietary sugar intake and heart disease recommends that high sugar intake should be avoided
The World Health Organisation has recommended that people significantly reduce their sugar intake.
Leader of the Australian Greens Dr Richard Di Natale has announced a new tax on sugary sweetened beverages to help tackle Australia's obesity epidemic.
Added sugar is very bad for your health, and puts an enormous strain on our health system. We have a major health crisis on our hands with over a quarter of Australian adults and children overweight or obese. 30% of the added sugar kids consume comes from sweetened drinks, which are a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity. If this trend continues our children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Earlier this year, Jamie Oliver laid down a challenge to Australia and called on us to follow the UK and introduce a tax of sugary soft drinks. The Australian Greens have accepted that challenge, and will push for the introduction of a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks which the evidence shows will reduce uptake by at least 12 percent. Every cent of the expected $500 million per year raised by the tax on sweetened drinks will be reinvested back into positive health initiatives for Australians.
Over four years $2 billion could be raised by ensuring that sugary sweetened drink manufacturers contribute to the harms their product causes. This tax is part of a broader prevention strategy for obesity, including clear food labeling; restricting junk food advertising to children; and encouraging physical activity through active transport.
The sweetest part of this policy will be the longer term benefits to Australians by reducing chronic disease and achieving better health outcomes,
This is another great primary health initiative from the Greens
by Wendy Tubman
We all have a right to know.
To know what is being done in our name. To know that those in a position of power are held accountable for their actions. We have a right to expect transparency from all our public servants, especially those whose position is as an elected official.
Our democracy is made stronger by an informed and engaged populace. Our democracy depends on freedom of the press, and our democracy is being damaged every single day that we, the voting public, are kept in the dark.
The Greens believe in our right to know, we believe in accountability, and transparency, we believe in a free press and a strong democracy, and we believe that the major parties are not doing enough to protect human rights, basic freedoms and the integrity of our political system.
While some politicians give lip service to the things we believe in, the Greens know that actions speak louder than words.
The Greens have announced that they will introduce a Private Members Bill into the Parliament, allowing media to gain access to Australian detention centres, following the election.
The ‘Transparency Guarantee Bill’ would mandate a reasonable level of access for media to detention centres and amend the migration act to make it illegal for the government to fund offshore detention centres where media are not allowed regular access.
Bill Shorten has conceded that the time has come to lift the lid on the secret torture camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Labor need to put their money where their mouth is and commit to legislating for transparency and genuine media access to the detention camps.
We all know (the Labor party included) that these detention camps operate under a cloak of secrecy for a reason and it’s important that we get this commitment from Labor enshrined in legislation.
A policy of secrecy is a dangerous one and secrecy has a long and sorry history in this country.
Secrecy allowed indigenous children to be taken from their parents.
Secrecy allowed the systematic abuse of children who were in the care of state and religious institutions.
Secrecy protected serial offenders and allowed abuse to continue long after it should have been stopped.
State sponsored secrecy has an even longer and more tragic legacy right around the world. And that is why fair minded people don’t just object to it, they are fearful of it.
Even with the little information we have been allowed to know about offshore detention, it is clear that the secrecy and the ongoing media blackout has allowed an environment of abuse and neglect to fester on Manus Island and Nauru. The Greens will act to put it to an end.
We ask for your support on July 2nd – stand alongside us and help us give the right to know back to every Australian.
by Wendy Tubman
Far from being a one issue party, The Greens have a suite of policies that cover issues and ideas that are important to most Australians.
We understand that different issues hold different levels of importance to people, we understand that time is limited, and we believe that every voter should go to the polling booth armed with good quality information in order to make the best decision for their future.
To keep things clear and simple we’ve listed the Greens full range of policies (in Alphabetical order below, and have included links to all the relevant policies.
All you need to do is click on the highlighted areas below that are of interest
Agriculture - Protecting our Food System Soil Health Local Food
Arts – Supporting Artsists Investing in the Arts
Economy – Banking and Finance Superannuation
Education – TAFE Equality Early childhood learning University Disability
Energy – Solar community owned energy Battery storage
Environment – Protection Wildlife Sustainable Tourism
Health – The Health System Palliative Care Dental Active communities Primary care Mental Health
Indigenous issues – Closing the Gap Indigenous Rangers Empowerment
Innovation – Innovation Nation R&D Agriculture Reducing harm
Justice – Access Re-investment
Reef – Protecting the Reef Marine Reserves
Renew - Queensland Australia
Social policy - Public Housing Diversity Domestic violence Inclusive communities
Tax - Tax Avoidance Capital Gains Tax The Buffett Rule Negative Gearing
Trade – Fair Trade, Live Exports
Transport – Sustainable transport Cycling Electric vehicles
There’s a lot there, and among all that policy, there’s an issue that matters to you.
Remember if you dismiss the Greens as a one issue party… you’re making a very big mistake
by Wendy Tubman
Accessible, affordable, quality childcare is a real issue at the moment. Working families all around the country are feeling the financial pressure of childcare costs and the government has responded by delaying their announced changes by 12 months.
It’s not good enough.
Families under significant pressures are expected to just hold tight for another year so the government can make the books look better for the election. But again it is not good social or economic policy.
The Greens know that affordable and quality childcare is important. It’s important for the economy as it takes pressure off disposable income, makes room for increases in discretionary spending, and so supports an array of jobs and businesses.
It’s an important part of ensuring healthy workforce participation rates for women. This is especially true for lower income earners, and this in turn will impact their superannuation and retirement savings. The government’s short term thinking will have longer term ramifications.
It’s important for kids and their education as it provides an opportunity to set them up for greater academic achievement. It is well established that the early years are an important phase of their learning. To make quality childcare unaffordable is a form of generational theft that this government sanctions.
In response the Australian Greens have announced a policy of ‘Universal Access’ childcare, with a guaranteed minimum of 24 hours of subsidised care offered to every Australian family each week.
The Greens policy creates a single, means tested payment model with access guaranteed for all Australian families. Whoever wins government will need to get their proposed childcare legislation through the Senate. The Greens would push for this policy to be implemented from the 1st of July 2017.
Families earning under $65,000 per year would have 85% of the cost of their care covered, with that amount tapering off until families who earn over $340,000 have 20% of their costs covered.
The Greens have also announced that they will create a $200 million ‘Reducing Waiting Lists Fund’, that centres could apply to access for either capital works, increasing staff or the expansion of specific programs to free up more places in high need areas.
Implementing the Greens’ policy of ‘Universal Access’ would add $370 million per year to the cost of the government’s proposed childcare overhaul. This would be funded through the Greens fully costed platform.
Again the Greens are offering a real point of difference. All the details on the policy are available here.
by Wendy Tubman
This far in to the longest election in living memory, you'd be forgiven for thinking there is nothing good about an election, other than it being over.
Elections are interesting times. We starts to see more of our local representatives, whether we want to or not. On one side we are reminded how well we are being served by our government, and on the other we are reminded of how we are being failed by those same people. Interest groups become more vocal, and those who are given the biggest megaphone can leave us wondering why.
And in among all that, we start to have the kind of conversations we need to have… about the present and the future.
The Conversation website is always a great source of information and inspiration. During this election period they have provided some great stories. Below are a few worth checking out.
The storm system along the East coast has done a great deal of damage, led to a number of tragedies, and has got people asking great questions… like - Is climate change playing a role in these events?
It also has people considering the unseen damage occurring from water run-off and the associated pollution of our waterways caused by the way our cities are designed. There is clearly more we should do, and you’ll find some suggestions in the article by Katherine Dafforn and Emma Johnston from UNSW.
Innovation has been a word that Malcolm Turnbull has been using frequently, without well-defining what he is talking about, or even proposing where our innovation investment should be focussed. Perhaps he doesn’t know, or perhaps he just needs a distraction from the record of his government. Either way, there are people who are making real and concrete suggestions about where our potential lies.
Peter Fisher from RMIT asks what a smart modern city looks like. This includes digital entanglement, densification and managing the risks of climate change. The Greens see these same risks and are addressing them through its policy on the NBN, protecting the envirnoment, addressing the reef's challenges, meeting our future transport needs, supporting and investing in innovation and research.
Professor Peter Doherty suggests that we play to our strengths and take advantage of our abundant renewable resources and our ability in medical and scientific research.
And what about the issues facing rural and regional Australia? According to Stewart Lockie from JCU they are: Infrastructure, Unemployment, Diversification and New economy jobs, ATSI participation, Health, Education and Social services, Climate change, Natural resource management, and Agriculture. You can read more of his views here.
The Greens understand this and have policies which include supporting our clean energy future, community owned energy, getting the community into active transport, investing in health, closing the gap, and empowering ATSI peoples.
Part of the process of being clear about the facts and the truth, is the ability to identify the lies, the exaggerations, and the popular myths. Again The Conversation and their fact checking unit is a great source of information.
While most rational people would take anything Pauline Hanson said with a grain of salt.. fact check has debunked her claims that crime is getting worse in Australia. And while Pauline relied on anecdotes, sensationalist news reports and her own gut feeling, fact check looked at the official data.
So rather than feel like you are being let down by politicians or news services who want to sell you the idea that all we need is a big new dam, or a new football stadium and all our problems will be solved for the next three years… feel encouraged that you can always search out other, more reliable sources of information, advice and opinion.
The Greens want people to be informed, they embrace a diversity of ideas and opinions, they support the research and the science, and they want people to make their own informed decisions. And the Greens have a full suite of policies which supports and integrates all the outcomes it believes in.
We might be in the middle of an election campaign but we will keep telling the truth, we will keep the hyperbole under control, and we will continue to highlight the kind of ideas that will serve the interests of all Australians.
In our opinion The Conversation website is such a reliable source. When you get the chance, check it out.
by Wendy Tubman
Water is an issue for the nation (one of the driest continents on Earth), as well as for Townsville, a large regional city in the dry tropics. The choices we make about water security underpin cost of living pressures, liveability and the ability of the city to grow and support jobs and industry.
Water is a simple supply and demand relationship. We can’t expect an unlimited supply and we can’t expect to have unrestrained demand.
We need a reasonable balance.
On the supply side - Townsville has an excellent water supply system, with highly treated and very safe water sourced from the Ross, Paluma and Burdekin dams.
While the Ross is our main supply dam, it is highly variable, with a limited catchment and low rainfall. The Paluma dam is situated in the wet tropics and is much more reliable, but can only supply 30 ML per day. The Burdekin dam is a huge system, with over 1 000 000 ML per year of water allocations, some of which is not committed. Townsville has 120 000 ML of allocation from the Burdekin.
In 2014, the Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS) undertook an assessment of Townsville’s water security. It found that at current consumption levels of 60 000 ML per year, we would have to be on Level 4 water restriction on average once every 160 years. It’s almost certain that we will have level 4 water restrictions this year (and perhaps next year). But that doesn’t mean we have a chronic water shortage problem.
It should be noted that the DEWS report used historical data in its modelling and did not consider the impacts of climate change on rainfall and catchment flows. However CSIRO have found that climate change is not likely to result in significant changes to rainfall patterns in North Queensland.
It is however worth considering that with population and economic growth we would expect to see demand grow to around 75,000 ML/a by 2026 (if current usage patterns remain the same). Even with that level of consumption, DEWS found that we would have to impose Level 4 water restrictions only once every 100 years.
Nevertheless, people are concerned about the city’s water supply, so it is worth some discussion now.
There have been a number of supply side solutions floated: Haughton pipeline duplication ($250M), Hells Gate Dam ($2-3B), Desalination (over $5B), but all these proposals have logistical challenges (and costs) as well as significant environmental impacts.
This begs the question… What about the demand side?
Townsville discharges 40 ML per day of treated water into the sea. There is an opportunity for reuse of this water, either in a third pipe system for irrigation or returned to the Ross Dam for additional treatment as part of the potable water supply. Reuse of treated wastewater directly into the water supply dam is not only safe, but common in many parts of the world, including Europe.
Many of us have travelled to places like London, drunk the water without hesitation, without ‘taste’ issues and without any ill-effects. The time will come when water management of this kind will be common in Australian cities, but until then there are other water saving options.
The reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation (whether for food production or for maintaining public facilities like sporting fields) is already common place in Australia and is a viable solution for Townsville. It will come at an additional infrastructure cost, but a much smaller cost than the supply side solutions. It will also be more reliable as it will not depend on rainfall
Alternatively, we can maintain our water demand to 60 000 ML/a and these works wills not be required. If we are factoring in population growth, to reduce our total city demand means we need to reduce our per capita consumption by 20%. If, as some are predicting, Townsville grows to 300,000 these reductions would need to be around 50%. The good news is both targets are achievable.
The average Townsville household uses 1,700 litres of water per day, while in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne households use around 210 to 285 litres per day. More than 70% of Townsville's water supply is currently being used on residential lawns and gardens
This needs to be addressed by applying targeted and effective price signals on usage, but also through a range of strategies that give us more benefit per drop of water (more efficient showers and toilets, better grey water reuse systems, less thirsty gardens or less wasteful gardeners)
It is time to have a healthy discussion about Townville’s water use. People need to understand their options along with the pros and cons of every choice. They need to know what are the most cost-effective and responsible courses of action, but they are being badly let down by the media and the major parties. But through forums like this blog the Greens are happy to lead the conversation.
The Greens propose policies which are economically, socially and environmentally responsible. And our approach to a sustainable water supply for Townsville is consistent with this approach.
The same can’t be said for the current election campaign, with the haphazard, expensive and unsustainable solutions being proposed by the major parties and their unfunded and poorly researched proposals.
by Wendy Tubman
Tertiary health care might be the most reactive form of treatment we have, but it is still very important.
It is our last line of defence against injury and disease, but it is equally important that we are spending wisely and driving great outcomes. We do need to only direct funds only towards best practice treatment, as mentioned in the previous blog. But we also need to know when to stop spending and treating.
Just one example of poor health spending that sadly leads to poor mental and physical health outcomes for patients was revealed on 4 Corners on Monday night – in the IVF industry. In part through poor regulation and loose Medicare funding guidelines, and in part as a result of the manipulation of desperate patients for financial gain, an insidious anti-health industry has sprung up where we should have had health care.
Cutting off inappropriate funding, will bring an end to unethical and unproductive practices. And we should make moves in this direction as soon as possible.
Better end- of- life options are also an important factor in ensuring we are more able to stop treatment appropriately. Properly resourced Palliative care is an essential part of good health care as it provides people with more choice and more certainty, alleviating mental anguish for patients and their families.
Beyond Palliative care we need to give people the surety and the security that comes with maintaining control and personal dignity at the end of life. Voluntary euthanasia is a difficult area to manage legally, but there are many international examples of countries who that have taken steps ahead of us. We can learn from their efforts and move forward in this issue in a safe and a sensitive way.
But the first step is to start a national conversation discussion about how we want to proceed, because doing nothing is inhumane.
The impact that climate change will have on human health is well documented. The effects will be significant. Any health policy that doesn't address climate change is both narrow and misguided.
It is important to recognise the essential role protecting the environment plays in good health outcomes. As the coal industry continues to decline we will see fewer respiratory disorders, reducing the load on tertiary health care.
By fast tracking an end to burning coal there will be fewer particulates in the air (less health impact), and we will see a limit to extreme weather events (also fewer health impacts). We will see a halt to the spread of tropical diseases like malaria, ross river fever, and zika virus into the sub-tropics.
By avoiding dangerous climate change we will have a greater chance of maintaining environmental biodiversity… which is a critical resource for medical science and research.
Many of our new and innovative medications and treatment regimes come from studying plants, and in particular the Rreef. There are a great many new treatments, as yet undiscovered, that we may never see if we don’t preserve our biodiversity. Developing these treatments takes time, and when it comes to preserving biodiversity it is a race against time.
The Greens are driven to provide better health outcomes for Australians (our leader is a Medical Doctor), and all our policies… whether they be social, environmental, economic, or sector specific (like in health and education) have at their core an interest in caring for all Australians and ensuring they have the best chance possible to achieve good health outcomes in their lives.
The Greens understand the need to have integrated policy that provides transformational leadership on important issues, and there are few more important issues than health.
As the saying goes… if you don’t have your health, what do you have?
by Wendy Tubman
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.