The Junction of the Murrray and the Darling
at Wentworth, NSW. August, 2006.
In Miss Eagle's ever so humble opinion, the Guide to the Proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan, will usher in the biggest structural adjustment in Australia's history since white settlement. I have said it before and I will keep on saying it...until I'm proved wrong.
Already farmers and irrigators have been sizing up their future on the land and many have already departed. The For Sale signs have been up for quite a while across the Murray-Darling Basin and inland communities have lost businesses and population. I expect that the MDB Plan will herald a whole new attitude to water.
For a start, irrigators have tended to exhibit a sense of ownership over water in their areas as they seek to have first dibs on it for productive purposes. Australians haven't argued about this...until recent years when The Big Dry and a growing knowledge of how we have mucked up this wonderful country have led us to consider different ways of doing things.
Over here, Sarah Clarke has laid out the central features of the MDB Plan. This will be a good place to start, Networkers, as you come to grips about what it all means.
Sarah points out that the Federal Government hopes to achieve a balance between agricultural, industrial, human and environmental needs. This is the current thinking of governments, environmental organisations and so-called Greenies these days. How that balance is established and managed is the crucial thing, though. And in establishing this balance, as those who have worked on the Victoria Water Act know, there are different views and different interests and we don't all get our wish-list.
The first thing to remember is that since 1994, Australia has been part of the landscape of commodified water. So many of us still believe - in spite of weak-kneed governments and greedy and zealous water traders - that water is a common good and a human right. When commodification and capital (in other words, money) enter the debate, the terms of that debate are well and truly modified away from that which most of us once knew to be true and another step is laid on the road to scarcity (although more a perceptive step than a real one).
In Australia, The Big Dry has clearly demonstrated that we can never go back to a business-as-usual approach and, if we ever do so, we will pay a heavy price. The Universe has spoken loudly and clearly. We have been wrong, thoughtless and selfish in our management, use, and exploitation of the natural environment. We have destroyed or come close to destroying that on which our life depends.
None of us can own the water in spite of what Water Registers may say. We may think that piece of trading paper denotes something of value...but water has a way of slipping through one's fingers and going its own way to destruction or life.
In April this year, I travelled to Kerang to attend a Community Information Session with the relevant bureaucrats working with the MDB Plan. It was quite an instructive exercise. The Bureaucratic Travelling Road Show is on the road again across the Basin in the wake of the Plan's release. For a list of dates, places and venues please go here.
If you are a townie, Networkers, with a sympathy for the bush and our precious Australian environment, I recommend that you get yourself to a session somewhere in the Basin at your convenience. It is good to get a handle on and a feel for what affected people are thinking and saying at first hand - and not mediated through the urban media. It is good to be able to try to nail the bureaucratic thinking and assess how they are dealing - well or otherwise - with us, the wider community.
As you will see from the list, the sessions are not necessarily occurring in the same places as last time. I went to Kerang last time but it is not on the list this time. I will give consideration to attending the Echuca-Moama session and, at the same time, having my first look at the Murray since The Big Wet. Shepparton might also be a place to go. Large numbers are expected there it would seem because two sessions are scheduled.
So let's see what the Plan is all about. If we think it gets things wrong, we will need to say so loud and clear. If it gets thing right, we need to express this just as clearly. There have been many attempts to sort out the Murray-Darling Mess. Let's get a Murray-Darling Plan that works and sorts out the problems and the difficulties.