Water is the very essence of life. As Benjamin Franklin said, its only when the well’s dry that we know its worth. With the drought in eastern and southern Australia, city-dwellers are realising how important water is and how our politicians have failed over the last four decades to do their duty and drought-proof Australia.
The federal government has at last noticed this with a $190m grant. Compared with the billions they put into all manner of questionable projects characterised as ‘off-budget’ investments which evade proper financial and parliamentary scrutiny, this is puny.
It’s less than half the $443.8m Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg just offered, without tender and without the recipient even asking, to a small foundation to ‘save’ the Barrier Reef, notwithstanding experts such as Peter Ridd who say that the Reef is in no need of saving.
Australia’s politicians and people were once united in not only being able to recite those immortal lines written by Dorothea Mackellar, but they also saw implied in these words a rallying call to overcome the ravages of nature:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
After lengthy debate, our founders made provision in the Constitution that Canberra be prohibited from cutting back on the rights of farmers and others to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation. The High Court and the politicians have since ensured that this, section 100, is a dead letter. Among politicians only Pauline Hanson seems to be calling for its application as originally intended.
The imperative to water our continent, which is surely in the heart of every Australian patriot, is more important now than in the past. This is because of the growth in the world’s population and the fact that as China and other countries have become wealthier, they have not only adopted a more Western diet, they also understandably prefer that their food be grown in land which is untainted by the pollution that only a Marxist command economy, or the fascist corporate state which has replaced it, can create.
Food grown in Australia is thus in high demand, as are the farms. The government should be reluctant to approve the sale of freehold to foreign interests, especially those which are required, in the ultimate analysis, to act as agents of a one-party government. At best, such acquisitions should be limited to shorter-term leaseholds.
This is all in the context that the shortage of water and thus food is becoming a serious world-wide problem. As Yossef Bodansky warns in the Washington journal, Defense & Foreign Affairs, there are already wide-spread riots, some very violent and even regime-threatening, over water shortages and the consequences across the Middle East.
Our political class seems ignorant of all this. For far too long they have looked down on farmers as backward, unsophisticated exploiters of the environment. So they treat them at best as potential criminals, even subjecting them to satellite surveillance as if they were enemies of the Commonwealth. This has to stop.
Instead of this hostility, our politicians should seek inspiration from some of the great achievements of their predecessors, such as the mainly migrant-built Snowy River Scheme and the magnificent Warragamba Dam. Begun in 1948 and completed in 1960, Warragamba created the beautiful Lake Burragorang, an enormous reservoir which gave Sydney, then a city of one million people, the highest per capita reserves of potable water of any city in the world. Now five million people, Sydney is projected to rise to well over 6 million by 2031 and approaching 9 million in 2061. Where will its water come from? Were either the Snowy or Warragamba proposed today, they would be delayed if not stopped for so-called environmental reasons. We would be told that the survival of some species, even, say, the spotted dwarf bufo marinus would be endangered.
Alan Jones has for many years led the call to drought-proof Australia, demanding that we harvest the vast amounts of water that flow into the sea from our coastal rivers, diverting them into our great farmlands so that they could become not only the bread basket of the nation but also of much of the world.
He refers to three men of vision who have proposed detailed and exciting plans to do this.
First, there was that great engineer, Dr John J.C. Bradfield, who designed the Sydney underground railway and the Harbour Bridge. He proposed diverting water from the Burdekin, Tully and Herbert rivers to the Warrego and Thompson rivers and into the Murray-Darling system. In 2010, chemical engineer Terry Bowring proposed this be done by channelling rather than piping the water. He estimated this would cost $9 billion, a fraction of the cost of, for example, the hapless NBN.
Then there was NSW minister Jack Beale who declared that no nation can afford to let resources remain idle, even if it has to build pyramids. He proposed building fourteen storage dams to divert every year two million megalitres from the Northern NSW Clarence River into the Murray Darling Basin. This, he believed, would increase the flow in the Murray-Darling by 100 per cent. But an investigation into this proposal ordered by Fraser was cancelled by Hawke.
The third visionary was Ernie Bridge, the first Aboriginal member of the West Australian parliament and the first Aboriginal cabinet minister in Australia.
He proposed a water pipeline from the Fitzroy River down to Perth, a distance of about 3700 km. The infrastructure company Tenix proposed this be done by a 7 metre wide canal costing $2 billion. Following Perth’s driest July on record in 2012, Premier Colin Barnett announced his support for the canal.
The time for further inquiries is long past. Rather than the billions politicians waste, we should as Alan Jones has long proposed, spend money on something crucial to our well-being and that of future generations, drought-proofing Australia supported by migrant labour and attracting population growth to the regions.