12 February 2009

Stimulating the Murray-Darling

Senator Nick Xenophon was right to reject the government's stimulus package because it did too little for the Murray-Darling. Accuse him of stuntmongering-as-usual if you will, but he is there to represent the people of South Australia and they need a less polluted river more than they need a new road or school assembly hall.

The Rudd Government was wrong to refuse the extra $3b on an already extravagant bloated large package. Signing Kyoto was easy - the failure of Penny Wong and Peter Garrett to address the impending failure of this river system would be the fatal flaw of the Rudd Government, but for the fact that the Opposition are so inept they cannot exploit this issue effectively. What is the point of having the Nationals if they can't nail Labor - particularly a Labor government led by Queenslanders, who've stolen so much water they don't know what to do with it - on this issue?

What more important piece of infrastructure is there than a healthy river system? It's more important than the Hume Highway, more important than the Dalrymple Bay coal loader, even more important than the entire motor dealership industry. Pony up you people and be quick about it.

The Greens have failed profoundly in not joining Xenophon on this. They've been mollified with vague promises about renewable power, but I'll bet a lot of that is "clean coal" and the like. Look what happened to Meg Lees when she was bought off with a hill of beans over the GST and know that it can happen to anyone.

The government will reintroduce the bill to the Senate, apparently, but they have missed the point. Sure, the government might get a double-dissolution trigger, and an election it would almost certainly win; equally sure is that South Australians would re-elect Xenophon so that crow-eaters might also drink. After the hurlyburly's done, the Murray-Darling basin would still be dying, a clear example of political failure, an indictment on this generation of Australians and one that could well undermine the ability of the political system to solve this country's problems.

The Rudd Government could stick to their guns and risk the same result again (and have the satisfaction of a double-dissolution trigger: good luck raising campaign funds while the economy is tanking, particularly in NSW!). Or it could bend to Xenophon and spend the money on the Murray-Darling. Never mind Xenophon - it would be the ultimate wedge to the Coalition to have Labor looking after Australia's rural communities and industries while its city-slicker leader groused about money.

Turnbull has strong grounds to stand on as a champion of the Murray-Darling if (only) he so chose, as steward of John Howard's $10b initiative in 2007. If he has softened his opposition to fiscal stimulus, he should insist that the expenditure have lasting and substantial benefit. This is one of Turnbull's few escape routes from the predicament that he and his find themselves in: eat Xenophon's lunch.

Yeah, every interest group is getting in for their chop while there's billions in the offing - but again, good luck with making the case that your hobby-horse is more important than the Murray-Darling Basin. Everyone has a vested interest in the viability of that river system, nobody has an interest in the catastrophe that would follow its failure.


  1. Xenophon is right in wanting the money, but wrong in thinking it should come from the stimulus package.

    The point of the stimulus is to get money flowing now, hence why it is social spending and quick to implement infrastructure. The Murray Darling needs to be planned, has already been funded (Xenophon is not seeking extra money but for the money to be brought forward), and will not have stimulatory effects until at least the mid term.

    The stimulus package is not a magic pot of gold to fund every crusade a senator has (no matter how worthy). The Greens are aware of this, got a small concession in line with quick stimulus - bike paths requiring little planning, and costing only $400,000.

  2. The point of part of the stimulus is to get money flowing now. Most of it is medium-term infrastructure. Improvements to schools will not yield benefits for years, decades even. If the Murray-Darling stuff has been funded, one would assume that planning has been done, hence the Senate is just bringing forward what has already been planned.

    Spare me that "pot of gold" crap - the MDB isn't just "worthy", it's essential.

    The Greens have been outflanked and outwitted. When I am riding on my local bike path I'm going to thank the local council, not my Green Senator - oh wait, I live in NSW, where there are no Green Senators.