Not getting any better
The government isn't getting any better at thinking through policy, carefully using the public stage (including the media) to build an initial case, and then consulting extensively to come up with a policy solution. The latest debacle over Murray-Darling water is another example of this depressing pattern, where the great issues of our time go begging or are deferred with some half-arsed nonsense.
Unsustainable agriculture depends on government subsidies. Farmers went into rice and cotton and all those other thirsty, low-value products because subsidies made them attractive. Bleat all you will about building your families' lives on the basis of subsidies, but farmers thus affected are no different to anyone else who's been taken in by political promises, or by dodgy investments. Governments cancel projects all the time: infrastructure builders, renewable energy providers and professional domestic insulation installers know this. Get over it, country people. I'm with thinkers from Heinrich Heine to Grog's Gamut in believing that burning printed matter is not on, and that anyone who does so must be deeply wrong and deserves none of the sympathy you might otherwise have felt for their predicament.
Mind you, given recent political history they are right to assume that a sharp blast of anger will cause the pollies to drop high-minded, long-term policy in favour of backflips and handouts.
And the Minister for Water, Tony Burke, promised regional towns the government would use its $9 billion water program - and more if necessary - to maintain a healthy river and healthy regional economies.When Birmingham calls out the minister like that, it would be just the Liberals' luck for him to rise to the task and scratch out hard-won respect by going town to town, farm to farm, bringing people not very different to Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area water hogs from the Coorong, as well as various boffins, and building respect and understanding through sheer hard graft. Instead, this is Tony Burke we're talking here, who will try and bore them to death and hope they simply drop away from public debate out of sheer boredom, or are excluded from it by dint of appearing on television in an unattractive way.
The opposition spokesman on the Murray-Darling Basin, Simon Birmingham, said Mr Burke should have attended the regional meetings to deliver his assurance in person.
As the Murray-Darling Basin Authority faces growing fury at meetings to discuss the cuts proposed in the guide released last week, conservationists criticised the body for announcing the cuts without highlighting the finding that two-thirds of the minimum 3000-gigalitre reduction will be achieved by 2014 through programs already in train.
It's interesting that Abbott is spending his time trying to dig himself out of his own foxhole over defence issues. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is a construct of the Howard Government, and therefore Abbott won't and can't criticise it. Going by his record he should be in there boots and all behind the farmers, putting the whole Afghanistan thing behind him, and it is suspicious that he isn't.
Yes, suspicious: blatant anti-environmentalism ("absolute crap") had been a key feature of his push to the election but has declined in importance since. Had Abbott gone in hard, shoring up already safe Coalition seats and disdaining potential votes in marginals in a reflexive lunge against the incumbent government, he would have repeated the Minchin-Abetz pattern of the past five years. For a voluble man, his silence is deafening. Maybe has learnt a thing or two, and is letting Labor bear the slings and arrows.
The NSW Irrigators Council said the authority's environmental findings were wrongYes well they would say that, wouldn't they. Not news, especially when presented without data.
Maybe he's flagging, and realises he's out of his depth. This issue is bigger than Tony Abbott, though, which is why he isn't handling it. I just wish that there was someone in public life who could, though, or who would die trying.