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
Primary prevention, efforts made to stop people getting sick in the first place, are the best strategies to ensure good health outcomes. Not only is this the least expensive approach, it also preferences wellness over the treatment of illness. It produces the best possible health outcomes for the smallest spend.
Australia has done primary prevention well in the past.
The ‘Life. Be in it.’ campaign was incredibly successful locally and was exported to the US in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, Federal funding was ceased in 1981 to redirect money to elite sports, and, while the program went into a hiatus, it was picked up by private interests and continues (in a much diminished form) to increase physical activity today.
‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ was an equally successful campaign. It markedly changed people’s behaviour in the sun and was responsible for seeing reductions in skin cancer rates. As often happens with successful campaigns, the government took its foot off the pedal (assuming the problem was fixed), behaviour changed again and we saw increasing prevalence of sun- related skin damage.
As a result that campaign has been effectively re-launched as Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.
When AIDS blindsided the world in the mid 1980’s, Australia again responded with a very effective public education campaign:, The Grim Reaper Ads which encouraged people to wear condoms and not to share needles. AIDS affected every corner of the planet, but it left Australia relatively untouched… saving many individuals from a premature death or a shortened life time of health issues and saving the economy billions.
But primary prevention goes beyond education. All the measures that have been taken to reduce tobacco use… plain packaging, banning smoking in some places and relegating smokers to out-of the-way places, support to quit through the Quitline. All that has driven smoking rates in this country to 17%, from where we now lead the world in rates of non-smoking.
Councils have played their part… providing active transport options like great bike path networks, and, in bigger cities, providing end of trip facilities and integrating bike transport with other public transport options. They have provided gyms in the park, like what is currently available in Sherriff Park.
But there is more that can be done… like increasing the Walkability of suburbs.
Federally, we will push further for clear labelling of processed foods, taking the Traffic Light labeling system beyond a voluntary scheme to a mandatory one. We will push for greater availability of healthier choices for kids and the banning of junk food advertising being broadcast during prime viewing times for kids.
There is also a great deal of support for other measures, like a sugar tax.
In addition to what’s been mentioned, there are a great many more opportunities for the government to drive down health costs, and at the same time increase the general health of the population. But while we are focused on emergency department waiting times, and waiting times for elective surgery, our eye is off the real game.
The Greens don’t support cuts to health… but we do support a smarter spend. We recognise that an effective health system must be based on primary health care and preventative health care measures — such as health promotion, disease prevention, risk reduction and early intervention — in order to manage chronic disease, reduce ill-health and avoidable hospital admissions.
The Greens will work in government to achieve this and have established, clear policies on:
Health Care, and
Check them out by clicking the relevant link.
Greens policies, and all the examples of great primary health initiatives are innovation in action. Malcolm Turnbull is good at talking about innovation (and getting excited about it), but terrible at translating it into real world solutions.
Only the Greens are making sensible proposals in this space.
by Wendy Tubman
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
As mentioned in the last blog, $300m is a low-ball projection for the cost of the proposed stadium (or is that a stadium/convention centre mongrel?) in the CBD.
More recent estimates put the price tag at $380m for this poorly conceived idea. But this is not necessarily the full pot of investment funds that could be found... matching it up with funds from the Commonwealth's Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility could double it to $760m.
If we are serious about spending about $760m (or even $380m) in Townsville there are smarter and more productive ways to use that money than on a new football stadium.
People are already coming up with better ideas. Many are supportive of some serious industry-scale renewable energy projects, and others look at value-added agriculture developing export opportunities, education, tourism and health. All of them incorporate a mix of benefits and on-going clean jobs for Townsville.
Think about, for example, an ‘urban cooling’ project that makes our suburbs more appealing and healthier places, a solar power station supplying the city, a renewable-energy-powered business hub, an upgraded and better integrated cycle network with more end of trip facilities, investment in kick-starting a local film industry, a start on Townsville joining the growing number of transition towns in Australia, a new entertainment, convention and learning centre that could bring big acts and events to Townsville year-round, more sustainable water initiative, flexible learning centres for disenfranchised youth, a sophisticated, interactive information centre about Townsville and the region for visitors.
The list goes on and there are more out there.
Share your ideas with us in the comments section or on our facebook page.
We'll run with all the great ideas that could improve the lives of North Queenslanders far more than a new football stadium in the CBD ever could.
by Wendy Tubman
Sport is a wonderful pastime that gives so much to players and spectators, individuals and communities.
Investing public funds in sport is worth doing because it adds to community wellbeing. But investing in a new football stadium in Townsville’s CBD is not a good investment for three key reasons... there are better ways to invest in public infrastructure, the concept of a combined football stadium-convention centre is flawed, and the proposed stadium will likely cost far more than the $300 million currently being suggested.
No argument that the Cowboys (the main beneficiaries of a new stadium) are a champion team. They do the region proud every time they run onto the field, and the team and the fans deserve a first class facility. But the current playing surface is excellent and the ground is well serviced by ample car parking. It is located ‘where the people are’, but also has a good shuttle bus service. Although sellouts are rare (so capacity is not an issue), the facility could do with an upgrade. $50 million of public money, topped up with fundraising and investment from the private sector would give Townsville a first class sporting facility. It would also free up between $250M and $450M for other important local projects – more on this in my next blog.
Unlike most politicians, I want to start by justifying my figures.
Building a new stadium would be sure to cost more than $300 million because experience tells us that big public projects always run over-budget. If you don't believe me just Google 'costs blow out' to see how often it happens.
There are two main reasons for this... one political, the other logistical.
Politically, it is easier to get a proposal for a $200M or $300M stadium up than a $500M stadium, so typically the projections for these projects are set as low as is believable, because once $200M has been spent on a half completed stadium, everyone wants to see the project completed rather than waste the money on providing the city with an unusable construction site. A half built stadium makes it easier to get the full $500M to complete the project.
Logistically, you have to deal with the fact that much of the proposed site is landfill, which will have implications for the stadium foundations (significant cost), and the fact that being an old rail yards site, there are significant soil toxicity issues (more cost). Then you have the impact of weather events (think cyclones and floods) and a range of other unknowns (like short term material and labour/skill shortages, errors, design modifications, foreign exchange fluctuations, etc) that invariably lead to delays and cost increases.
The problem with spending $300M or $500M on one piece of Townsville infrastructure is that other important local infrastructure will not receive any funding for a significant period of time. The political argument will be 'we just spent $300M on you, you will now need to go to the back of the queue with the rest of your wish list'.
And finally, the concept of a combined stadium/convention centre. The real purpose of this proposal is to make the project politically saleable and to attract the large amount of public funding needed.
Even assuming that the concept could work (turf, open roof, stands?), such a combination is not best practice... Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth convention centres ... all of them are fantastic buildings, they all attract great performers, events and conventions, and none of them double up as a football stadium.
Given the success of all those facilities... why would Townsville be the exception, and how would this attract the kind of events that all the other capitals do?
Answer... it wouldn't.
These are the reasons not to spend up to $300m+ on a new Townsville stadium. In the next blog I'll outline some ways in which the money would be far better spent.
by Wendy Tubman
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.