This might come as a shock, but last week 11 bills were passed by the House of Representatives and Parliament that dealt with some of the most significant issues of the century so far. And lots of cross party agreement was needed to get this work done.
Substantial events of the week included agreement on a management plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, a quest which is almost as old as Parliament, and steps to create a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a plan once considered unachievable.
In any week, and not just the last, these would have been important signposts of progress benefitting the Australian people.
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History is littered with good intentions gone bad and concerns are growing the Government’s recently released draft Murray Darling Basin Plan is a prime example.
Frontline environmentalists, who live and work with the vagaries of the rivers, are warning that the Government is heading down the wrong track and could be responsible for allowing wetlands, which not even the worst drought in living memory could kill, to be severely damaged as a result of over-watering.
If we have above average rainfall over the next 12 months the world’s largest river red gum forest is facing the very real prospect of being degraded within three years of it being declared a national park, and two years before the Federal Government has signed off on an environmental watering plan.
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The Murray-Darling Basin Authority Draft Plan, released yesterday, includes a reduction in water use of 2,750 gigalitres per year, compared to 2009 baseline diversions. So there will now be extra 2,750 GL/y in environmental flows. Does this give the right balance?
The candidates for the biggest loser are (1) the irrigators, (2) the Basin communities and (3) the environment.
The extra environmental flow is estimated to lead to a reduction in irrigated agricultural production of about 11%. But the irrigators won’t be the big losers because they will be compensated by the water buyback scheme.
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Labor hard man Graham Richardson noted yesterday that courage was a defining quality in a leader. He was speaking about Peter Costello’s unwillingness to do the hard graft of gathering the numbers for a challenge which of course, never came. That tawdry clash of egos which bedevilled the last Coalition governemnt will re-surface this week when John Howard’s memoirs, ``Lasarus Rising’’ hits the bookshelves.
Courage remains important in the contemporary political context too because it is not just seizing power that takes guts, exercising it fully also requires steely determination in the face of resistance.
Even Julia Gillard’s political enemies concede she has passed the first of these tests. Blasting Kevin Rudd from the leadership took a lot of sand.
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I just returned from almost three weeks in Hong Kong. It is a city that I fell in love with some five years ago when I worked there with Oxfam Hong Kong.
There is a great deal that Australia’s major cities could learn from Hong Kong: it is a city that promotes and rewards efficiency, cleanliness and creativity – aspects that we often neglect.
This is clearly evident in the integrated design of the public transport system that is regular, clean, safe and on time. (Please note NSW State Rail Authority: the definition of ‘on time’ does not change at regular intervals but is kind of set). For example, last Saturday I missed a bus – my irritation was subdued when I informed the next one was ‘four minutes’ away. We can compare this to the two-hour gap between busses on the 370 route between Leichhardt and Coogee which I was faced with only a week later: and this is in the eastern suburbs if Sydney – the best served public transport corridor.
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Independent MP Tony Windsor yesterday continued what is becoming a pattern of rather cryptic and fencing sitting statements.
He told The Australian that he wasn’t sure he supported the Murray Darling Basin plan to buy back 3000-4000 gigalitres of water from irrigators, and that perhaps the Government should look at other methods to return water to the system like diverting water from other areas.
This is a perfectly legitimate stance, although it was his other comment about the likelihood of any legislation on the plan succeeding in Parliament that is confusing. Windsor told The Australian and later the ABC that he didn’t think any legislation would see “the light of day” in this Parliament:
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As far as political slogans go, “No Dams” had an absolute simplicity about it which resonated with the vast majority of Australians.
Despite the localised concerns of Tasmanians, some sympathy from blue-collar mainland communities reliant on industries such as logging, and the arcane constitutional quibbles of a few States’ rights enthusiasts, most Australians happily bought the clear message conveyed by the bright yellow triangular bumper sticker.
The Franklin River was saved. The year was 1983. Twenty-seven years on and it’s obvious that while “No Dams” might have worked as an effective call to arms, “Save the Murray” is struggling to get beyond being an empty slogan as the nation remains paralysed as to how we should save it.
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It is an absolute tribute to the men and women who built the Snowy Mountains Scheme that their engineering marvels continue to supply drinking, irrigation and environmental water to two million people who call the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) home.
Because if it wasn’t for the man-made miracle that is the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the only thing coming out of many taps in the MDB would have been dust.
Permanent plantings of citrus, stone fruits, grapes and the myriad of fresh food that lands on our table would have been wiped out. Whole communities would have had to pack up and leave and the environment would have worn the full fury of Mother Nature with death a daily reminder of the power of the weather gods.
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The recent significant rain event in the northern stretch of the Murray Darling Basin has not only given hope to suffering farmers and rural communities, it has also placed a spotlight firmly on the fraud being perpetrated by the Prime Minister and the cabal of Labor Premiers when it comes to water policy for the Murray Darling Basin.
Only 18 months ago this group of ‘leaders’ stood together and waved around a ‘historic’ agreement in Chamberlin like fashion claiming that it delivered a national system of water management.
Not only has this been shown to be a complete joke by the torrent of water now flowing down the Darling, it has also shown the Rudd Government’s failure to invest in the necessary infrastructure to deliver real water savings before the rain came.
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In a move reminiscent of John Howard’s “headland” speeches ahead of his successful 1996 campaign, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott last night delivered the first of his direction statements ahead of this year’s poll. And he adopted a decidedly green hue, saying it was time to scotch the misnomer that conservatives could not be good environmentalists.
The speech contained two policies - the national takeover of the Murray-Darling river system and the creation of a so-called 15,000-strong “Green Army” - and a promise of more to follow, with Abbott conceding he did not yet have a finalised position on carbon emissions but would do so within the fortnight.
The first policy should have Kevin Rudd worried as if he had been acting as a decisive national leader he would already have stepped in to wrest control of our biggest river system off the squabbling states. The second policy seems more a bit of gimmickry - and expensive gimmickry at that, with a potential bill of up to $750 million to send 15,000 environmental fix-up folks into the bush at $50,000 a pop.
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