The real letter Mike Rann should write to Kevin Rudd
In their haste to get an agreement on national management of the Murray Darling Basin Kevin Rudd and Mike Rann quite literally sold the dream.
Now, as Mike Rann realises the deal he signed has left the Southern Basin high and dry despite floods flowing into the system up north, the South Australian Premier has been left so impotent that all he can do is write a letter to the Prime Minister.
It is reminiscent of the satirical movie Team America: World Police who lampooned former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix over his incapacity to bring North Korea to heel, with his character saying:
“If you don’t show us the WMDs, we will be very angry, and we will send you a strongly worded letter.”
Mike Rann may or may not be angry, but his letter has certainly failed to even live up to the strongly worded aims of the parodied Mr Blix.
In a bid to help the Premier, I’ve penned some words he may like to send to the Prime Minister instead …
Dear Prime Minister
We’ve been caught out. The problem with governing over a number of years is that eventually you get held to account for at least some of the things you’ve said along the way.
Remember that autumn day in 2008 at the Adelaide Convention Centre where we announced to the world that we were going to save the Murray Darling Basin by signing what we called an “historic agreement”?
I knew we were over-egging it at the time. That agreement has more holes in it than those leaky old Menindee Lakes near Broken Hill that you promised to fix in 2007.
You see I just hoped it would rain enough to save the river before we got caught out. You, I assume, hoped to be UN Secretary General before anyone noticed. Anyway, who was to know that it would be rain that actually showed up our claims for the fraud they were?
Now I’m in a spot of bother. I have one of those nasty election things in about 70 days and I’m worried that my voters won’t be distracted by bike races or festivals this time, but will instead punish me for selling them down the drain, if you’ll pardon the pun.
All of that rain that has fallen in the northern Basin looked so promising and exciting. It’s great news for farmers and communities along the Darling and its tributaries. I know they’ve been doing it tough and as long as the water they use is fairly allocated, metered and accounted for then we don’t begrudge it to them at all.
But I see that even after those communities have had their bit New South Wales Water estimate that 300 billion litres will be allowed to flow from the Darling into the Menindee Lakes. And it doesn’t sound as though it will be progressing any further than that.
Now surely you can see the embarrassment that we both face, having claimed we had a national deal, but now having to explain that the NSW Government (who know a thing or two about embarrassment) can decide all by themselves to keep the water in Menindee.
Even with our powers of spin we won’t be able to convince anybody of this national deal – not if not one drop of water reaches Victoria or South Australia.
It wouldn’t be quite so bad if you had at least gotten around to honouring your 2007 election promise to reengineer Menindee Lakes. Then, at least, the Lakes may not have been so low, needed so much water or, worst of all, wasted the water that came their way.
Seeing as John Howard had already budgeted the $400 million required I’d have thought you would have at least started this project to save 200 billion litres of water a year by now.
If we are to save any face at all, we need to do several things. First, you need to use all powers at your disposal to ensure NSW releases a fair amount of water downstream.
Second, you need to pull your finger out and start to actually spend some of the billions of dollars allocated to water saving infrastructure projects. Billions of litres can be saved throughout the system to help irrigators do more with less, while also providing more for the environment. Why you are allowing countless delays by the NSW and Victorian Governments in particular is beyond me.
Third, we need to take the national deal back to the negotiating table. We cannot wait until 2019 for a truly effective national basin plan. And we can’t leave individual states with ability to subvert or delay any of these processes any longer.
I know all of this requires us to say that we got it wrong, but the consequences of doing that now will be nothing compared to the egg on our faces if we continue to pretend that we fixed it years ago.
I look forward to your urgent action. Please note that was action, not words, that I asked for. Unusual for either of us, I know, but just this once, please!
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