Home' InDaily : January 15th 2010 Contents www.independentweekly.com.au
7The Independent Weekly
January 15 - 21, 2010
state politics Tom Richardson
There is a classic Peter Cook and
Dudley Moore sketch, in which
Cook -- in his role as foppish
patrician Sir Arthur Streeb-
Greebling -- laments that World War
II was "a nasty business" before
adding haughtily that he had been
"dead against it".
Moore, as his interviewer,
stammers that he s pretty sure "we
"Yes," retorts Streeb-Greebling
witheringly, "but I wrote a letter."
Mike Rann made me think of this
exchange in recent days. We re all
fed up with the continuing malaise
as the states squabble over water
entitlements, almost forgetting the
magic national agreement they
signed two years ago that suppos-
edly solved all our problems. We re
all fed up with seeing New South
Wales inundated by water from the
heavens while the Lower Lakes go
to hell in a handbasket.
Yes, we re all fed up. But Mike
Rann wrote a letter!
Indeed, and a letter not to just
anyone, but to Mister Numero Uno
himself: Kevin Rudd, PM. Who
unfortunately happened to be on
holiday at the time.
Whenever our Premier writes
one of his well-publicised letters, I
get a mental image of one of those
overflowing wastepaper baskets
with a novelty netball hoop above it.
At any rate, Mike wanted Kev
to help him sort out that young
upstart Kristina Keneally, the new
kid on the Labor block, Premier
at the helm of the nation s biggest
basket-case economy. Rann seemed
to think that federal intervention
could help convince NSW to send
some of its floodwater bonanza
downstream, where it is sorely
Never mind, of course, the
fact that NSW has no obligation
whatsoever to do so, under the
March 2008 COAG deal that Mike
Rann signed us up to.
And never mind that Keneally
quickly contacted Rann to assure
him she was sympathetic to South
Australia s plight and was all in
favour -- at least in principle -- to
releasing some excess runoff.
Rann didn t let any of this deter
him from his sales pitch, which
was to paint NSW as the bad
guy, withholding precious water
from its downstream cousin. He
insisted that even though the 2008
deal ceding control of the Murray
Darling system to a national
authority doesn t begin to kick in
till next year, it is still beholden on
the NSW Government to "honour
the spirit of the agreement".
How ridiculous! Surely, it is
beholden on the SA Government to
honour the letter of the agreement.
After all, Rann signed us up to
what he and others trumpeted as an
"historic agreement", one that was
supposed to "end the blame game"
Instead, we have SA taking
Victoria to the High Court and
begging the Federal Government
to force NSW to give us water we re
not entitled to.
It s time to acknowledge that this
deal is a dud. For Rann to continue
to hold it up as the pinnacle of
co-operative federalism, even while
he begs other states to effectively
ignore what was agreed and give SA
more water, is deceitful.
Even the Commonwealth appears
to have lost patience with its
so-called historic agreement, with
various ministers adopting the
persona of an exasperated parent
trying to reason with disobedient
"If Premier Rann seeks to have
those rules renegotiated, then the
Federal Government is happy to
facilitate any such negotiations,"
said Acting PM Julia Gillard last
week. (Roughly translated: "If you
kids can t play nicely together and
learn to share, Mummy will have to
divide up the toys for you!")
We heard very similar rhetoric
days later from Water Minister
Penny Wong, returning from her
Christmas holidays: "If the states
and the Commonwealth wanted to
change how the Murray Darling
Basin Agreement worked, that
would need to be negotiated."
The message is clear: if Mike
Rann wants NSW and Victoria to
send water downstream in direct
contravention to the 2008 COAG
agreement, then that agreement is
effectively meaningless and must
But the plot thickens. Rann
intimates that his plea honours
"the spirit of the agreement",
since water would have to come
downstream after 2014 anyway, and
after all, what s good for the Mouth
is good for the River isn t it?
But under the dud COAG deal,
NSW retains control of the water in
the Menindee Lakes until it reaches
that all-important trigger-point
capacity of 640 gigalitres.
With up to 500 gigalitres expected
to flow into the lakes after the
summer floods, releasing some
benevolent water downstream to
provide a smidgeon of help to the
Lower Lakes (but for all practical
purposes, this one-off boost is going
to help out the Rann Government
a lot more than it helps the Lower
Murray) can help ensure that
NSW manages to retain control of
its resources, by preventing that
trigger-point being reached.
Let s be very clear about this:
this week s great "breakthrough"
occurred despite the national
water agreement, not because of
it. It didn t occur because of any
petitions, and it certainly didn t
occur because of silky diplomacy
or general goodwill. It came about
through political expediency and
This agreement that was
supposed to end intrastate bicker-
ing has made it worse than ever.
The rhetoric in the water debate
is increasingly parochial, and
increasingly Machiavellian. Rann
talks about 2011 as though from
next year we will never have to
worry about another drop of water
In fact, all that happens in 2011 is
that the new Murray Darling Basin
Authority (you remember, that body
replacing the old toothless tiger, the
Muray Darling Basin Commission?)
provides what s called a "Basin
Plan". For whatever good that will
be, since according to the agree-
ment signed in March 2008, "the
Commonwealth agrees to honour
all existing water resource plans
in all jurisdictions", most of which
end sometime in 2014 but which
continue until 2019 in Victoria. So
much for immediate action!
Perhaps it would have been better
if NSW had not so readily agreed to
help replenish the parched Lower
Don t get me wrong: any water to
that desperately afflicted region is
sorely needed and gladly welcomed.
But chances are the quantity that
finds its way there will do little to
rejuvenate the dying basins.
At least if NSW had been
intransigent it would have made
it abundantly clear to the general
public what the signatories to
the Murray Darling Agreement
already know: that the deal is a
flop, one that has already failed
to end the habitual squabbling
of the competing jurisdictions. It
has replaced one toothless tiger
with another and addressed an
urgent environmental disaster
with a national plan that is not fully
implemented for another decade.
It may, however, have one
important role in the short term.
Useless as it is, the national deal
may yet help the Rann Government
get re-elected come March.
Return to sender
SA-based national health agency under fire
A KEY Federal Government health
initiative to be based in Adelaide has
been dismissed as a rushed-through,
bureaucratic agency which will not
address the country s health crisis.
The $1.5 billion Health Workforce
Australia (HWA) will officially open
its doors in Adelaide on January 27,
more than eight months later than
originally planned. It will attract
more than 100 jobs to the city, but
the federal shadow health minister
Peter Dutton says the HWA will not
help those who need it most.
"The Rudd Government promised
to 'fix hospitals by mid-2009, but
instead all we have seen to date is the
creation of more agencies and jobs
for bureaucrats," he said.
"Kevin Rudd has added another
layer of health bureaucrats, and
that won t help patients, doctors or
Announced in November 2008
by the Coalition of Australian
Governments, the HWA is the
centrepiece of the Federal
Government s response to health
issues and is the largest investment
in the health workforce ever made by
The HWA has been assigned
the tasks of supporting research,
training and workplace reform. It
will also advise health ministers.
However, Mr Dutton said the
agency was ill-planned and not
equipped to deal with the problems
facing the health system.
"Health workforce training and
planning is important, but once
again the Rudd Government rushed
through legislation without proper
consultation and without clearly
defining the responsibilities of the
new agency," he said.
"This agency alone will have
administration costs of $125 million
over four years, at a time when
the government has cut Medicare
rebates for a range of procedures
because of pressure on the health
"Kevin Rudd needs to start actu-
ally fixing our health system rather
than just adding more pressure by
spending scarce dollars on more
The State Government enticed the
HWA to SA with offers to contribute
towards office rental costs. Health
Minister John Hill said cabinet
approved $300,000 this financial year
and $590,000 for the agency s first full
year of operation.
"It s expected that these
initial set-up costs will be easily
outweighed by the predicted wider
and long-term economic benefits,
as the HWA s Adelaide location will
raise the national profile of SA and
offer the opportunity to attract new
business and national organisations
to the state," he said.
Federal Health Minister Nicola
Roxon did not respond by deadline.
Ms Roxon has previously
promised the agency would provide
"more effective, streamlined and
integrated clinical training arrange-
ments and support workforce reform
A man-made dam across Lake Alexandrina: proof the Government s water deal is a flop.
Whenever our Premier writes one of his
well-publicised letters, I get a mental image of
one of those overflowing wastepaper baskets
with a novelty netball hoop above it.
Links Archive January 14th 2010 January 18th 2010 Navigation Previous Page Next Page