The government must declare a water emergency

  Last updated November 15, 2019 at 3:31 pm


Our leaders are not putting the national interest first when it comes to the water emergency, with expert Quentin Grafton laying blame at pollie’s poor decision making.

drought Darling River water emergency

The once mighty Darling River. Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Why This Matters: Our politicians often forget that people come before profits.

Politicians using drought relief to assist farmers in need are ignoring effective and long-lasting solutions to Australia’s water emergency warns a leading expert from The Australian National University (ANU).

While rains on Sunday and Monday fell on long-term drought affected areas in NSW and Queensland, the respite provided is expected to only moderately ease rainfall deficits in the region.

“It’s respite rain which will give some real encouragement and peace of mind for people right across the drought-affected areas of the country,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“We hope and pray for more and the government is obviously going through the final stages of its next set of announcements when it comes to providing drought support.”

But Quentin Grafton, from the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, is calling for the Government to declare a water emergency instead of turning to short-term solutions like drought relief.

“Instead of admitting Australia faces a water emergency, political leaders prefer to use the word drought,” he says.

“This is because Australia has experienced it in the past and it is ‘solved’ when the rains come. Politicians cannot be blamed for acts of nature.”

Efforts do not solve our water emergency

Grafton says that drought relief allows our leaders the opportunity to pretend to fix the problem, while also showing compassion for those doing it tough.

“Income support to those who can get it is, no doubt, welcome,” he says.

“Unfortunately, it does not solve our water emergency. In this make-believe narrative, all blame accrues to the heavens.”

Grafton’s call to arms is outlined in an article for Policy Forum co-authored with John Williams from ANU and based on their recently published paper. They highlight sustained Government inaction as a key source of the problem.

“The current drought began in 2017, and came less than 10 years after the Millennium Drought ended. Yet the nation’s elected leaders are surprised by another major drought,” they write.

Also: New satellites show worrying views of droughts and ice loss

“Like rabbits on the road facing the full beam of an approaching vehicle, they seem unable to move beyond last century solutions to respond to this water emergency.

“As Rome burns, people in towns like Wilcannia on the lower Darling get their drinking water from 10-litre cartons delivered from the back of trucks.”

Billions of dollars are being poured into efforts that won’t solve the problem

Farms across the country have hit crisis point. Credit: David Gray / Stringer

Grafton says “rent-seeking“, “capture by special interests” and “decision-making that goes against the public interest” were compounding the crisis.

“For example, between 2014 and 2018 the NSW Irrigation Council had more than 25 water-related meetings with New South Wales Ministers, yet many non-industry and non-irrigation entities had only one meeting,” he explains.

“Billions of dollars have been allocated to build water infrastructure like dams which won’t solve the problem or deliver public benefit.

“And it was poor decision-making that led to the dire situation in the Murray-Darling Basin and the massive fish kills along the Darling in January 2019.

Also: Time for a new approach to the Murray-Darling Basin

“Australia must stop blaming the river and recognise that capture by special interests has led to this water emergency. It is not simply an act of God; it has arisen from a lack of planning and decision-making that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

“Neither drought relief nor dams are solutions. Instead, Australia needs its political leaders to lead, to put the national interest first, and to make decisions that place people before profit.”

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