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.
Wendy Tubman, the Greens candidate for Herbert is passionate about the local community and is working hard to connect with locals and discuss what matters to them. This campaign is not solely about getting elected, it is about giving voice to local people and how they see our shared future in the region.
Wendy is talking with her colleagues in the party about what matters to Townsville, but also what is important for Queensland's and Australia's future. Although this is a Federal election campaign, local, state and federal issues are impacting on us all, and Wendy believes good governance is about bringing all our representatives together to work on a shared vision for a great future.
Wendy has been at the markets talking to anyone who is interested in stopping to chat. She'd encourage more people to take the opportunity... it's our democracy and by getting involved at any level means not only do we get to keep it, but it reflects our needs, our hopes and our desires.
But Wendy says don't just stop and talk to her, talk to the other candidates, let them know what you care about, and make sure they are as focused on representing you as Wendy is.
Wendy was out during the May day marches talking with locals. The issues at QNI are a topic of concern for us all.
Regardless of how things play out at Yabulu, our region needs new jobs and new industries. Wendy stands for looking after workers who have lost their jobs (especially in circumstances like those surrounding QNI), in supporting the transition to new jobs and in creating opportunities for all people who want to work, but especially for youth and new workers in our region. Everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute.
People are cynical about politics and politicians... with good reason. Thankfully our cartoonists have the ability to combine those feelings with a good laugh.
But Wendy reminds you all... all candidates are not the same. It is a long election campaign... but don't switch off. Be well informed and choose wisely on July 2nd.
The government has been making one amateurish error after another this year as they nervously watch their approval and support fall among voters.
No one believes the impending Double Dissolution is about the importance of re-establishing the ABCC, rather it is an excuse to try and 'clean out' the Senate of dissenting voices, and a chance to rush to an election before government support and the PM's approval slips too much further.
The much anticipated Budget has for some time been used as an excuse to not answer questions, and to avoid repeated gaffes. Everything was to be answered on Tuesday night. But the strange thing was that it left us with no real answers... perhaps an indication that the government doesn't have any.
One commentator after another has been suggesting the real plan is for budget talk to disappear as quickly as possible, and not hang around like Joe Hockey's 2014 stinker.
But as much as it was designed to fly under the radar, there is still plenty to criticise.
The Greens spokesperson for transport and infrastructure Senator Janet Rice said
“Turnbull’s much-trumpeted $50 billion infrastructure spend is just smoke and mirrors, mostly just reannouncing Abbott-era projects. Less than 10% is going to public transport, continuing the chronic underinvestment in our trains, trams and buses. We’re not going to ease congestion by continuing Tony Abbott’s addiction to great big polluting toll roads. Trying to fix congestion by building more roads is like loosening your belt to cure obesity – car use will inevitably expand to fill the space. A better budget would have prioritised trains, trams and buses, freeing up our roads for people who need them most."
Senator Scott Ludlam said:
"We will see thousands of wealthy retirees switch their investments from superannuation to property. That will squeeze lower income earners and first home buyers even further out of the market. Negative gearing already costs the community $4 billion a year, a cost that will no doubt rise further as people move their wealth out of superannuation and into property, forcing ordinary taxpayers to subsidise their investments. The capital gains tax discount costs closer to $7 billion annually. The government ran away from tackling these handouts, for fear of upsetting the property sector. More and more Australians are locked out of the housing market, and Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison seem determined to make it worse. This budget confirms more than $110 million of annual funding to homelessness services comes to an end next year. They've locked in Tony Abbott's appalling $600 million cuts to affordable rental and housing programs."
Senator Larissa Waters said:
“Our Reef is suffering record coral bleaching driven by global warming but the Liberals are ripping out a billion dollars from clean energy, and funding for work on Reef water quality comes from cutting Landcare. True to its anti-science agenda, the Turnbull Government has locked in the Abbott Government’s cuts to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. While environment funding is cut, the mining industry get another $100 million for exploration to dig up more fossil fuels to further cook the Reef’s corals. A better budget would have invested in clean energy, not dirty energy, to help save the 69 000 jobs the Reef provides. While the fossil fuel industry continues to get over $20 billion in subsidies, the Turnbull Government’s budget locks in the $1.3 billion slashed from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency."
But the Budget is perhaps best summed up by Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale:
"This Budget is a massive let-down, just like Malcolm Turnbull has turned out to be. The government is pretending it can afford unsustainable and unfair tax cuts for the big end of town by claiming fanciful levels of economic growth. While champagne will be flowing in board rooms across the country, these irresponsible cuts come at the expense of long-term funding for schools, hospitals and public services. Rather than reducing inequality the government has chosen to make it worse by cutting social support, university funding and health services. The government doesn't see the jobs of the 21st century in building wind turbines and public transport, they see them in building military hardware. The much-trumpeted $50 billion investment in infrastructure turns out to be a case of smoke and mirrors. It's just a repackaging of existing funding."
As always with the Abbott/Turnbull government... we are promised so much and offered so little. This budget is just par for the course.
Never has there been a more important time not to settle for 'more of the same' from tired old major parties who have either run out of ideas or else are beholden to their support base.. selling out the rest of us in the process.
It is now clear that the only real hope for change is to vote Green at the upcoming election.
by Wendy Tubman
We have been told for many years that the Coalition are better economic managers, without being provided with any evidence to support this bold claim.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and distance gives you the perspective and the ability to take a more dispassionate assessment of many things, but that is especially true of government performance. The Howard government is now far enough behind us to take a look at their economic record and that of the former Treasurer Peter Costello. And in recent months a great many experts and commentators have been doing this
According to Crispin Hull in the Canberra Times the structural deficit we currently have in the budget belongs wholly to Peter Costello and his hopeless performance as Treasurer. An excellent article by Mike Seccombe highlights the fact that a number of very wealthy Australians essentially pay no tax – surely that’s revenue problem (as well as a problem of equity). Mike also goes on to outline how many Howard-era policies shifted the tax burden from the big end of town to those at the bottom of the economic pile… the exact template Abbott spectacularly failed to implement in 2014.
Despite the assertions of Scott Morrison, our latest non-performing Coalition Treasurer, that the only problem we have is a spending problem, analysis by the ABC suggests we have a revenue problem also. And despite recent claims by the budget office that we do have a spending problem, Greg Jericho demonstrates things are more complex than that.
Howard himself was treasurer, appointed following the removal of Phillip Lynch for dodgy land deals while in the Fraser government. During this stint many consider Howard to have been inept. In 1982-83 Howard personally oversaw the worst recession since the Great Depression.
All damning stuff, and a long history of blunders and ineptitude.
In addition to all the poor report cards on so many Howard and Costello policies, it is worth looking at additional spending (the baby bonus) and revenue (fuel excise) initiatives.
The Baby bonus was largesse at the height of the mining boom, introduced by Costello, but poorly targeted and always completely unsustainable. It took a Labor government to pare it back and better target it to actual need rather than middle and upper class pork barrelling. The change introduced in 2013 by the Gillard government is projected to save $2.4B over 4 years. Given that the bonus was introduced in 2002, and based on these numbers the wastage as a result of poor Coalition policy and loose economic management around this issue alone is likely over $6B.
Fuel excise was cut and frozen in March 2001 – at a time (in an election year) when the Howard govt was deeply unpopular. As Bernard Keane explains it worked a treat politically by turning Howard’s political fortunes around, but has been something of an economic disaster. The Australia institute found that up to June 2015, this desperate move by Howard cost $46B in lost revenue. Keeping Howard and Costello in their jobs was very expensive for us all.
Malcolm Turnbull came to the top job by promising better economic leadership. At the time anyone looked better than Hockey and Abbott. Things moved slowly because everything was on the table and was being considered carefully by the government.
But that was a lie. Malcolm Turnbull had already decided to keep the baby bonus unchanged (in order to get the National’s support for his Coup) -this will cost $1.4B over the next 10 years.. Clearly a spending problem.
When negative gearing and superannuation entered the public conversation Turnbull insisted he wanted to have, Malcolm and the Coalition tried to shut it down by suggesting house prices would both rise and fall in the same 24 hour period as well as rents going through the roof. Economist Saul Eslake believes there is no evidence to support the claims of those running the scare campaign.
It seems yet again that the Coalition is willing to sacrifice economic improvement for political gain.
Further evidence of the Coalition’s economic credentials - there has in fact been a turnaround since the Coalition took charge of the Treasury benches. Australia has gone from the stand-out economy through the global financial crisis (GFC) to the worst performer in terms of growth trajectories among the world’s wealthiest nations, according to new OECD data from the last quarter of 2015.
The Turnbull government is currently sinking like a stone for many reasons – infighting and division, poor leadership and communication, a continued haphazard approach to government, and significantly… economic mismanagement.
But to be fair the Turnbull government is no different than the Abbott, Howard and Fraser governments… they were all terrible economic managers.
by Mark Enders
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.