Friday, June 28, 2013

Political troubles with the new MDB plan

Governing and managing the MDB (Murray Darling Basin) in Australia is regarded by many as a classic 'wicked problem' but it has rarely been framed as such by policy makers.  Developing, and now adopting a MDB plan has been a frought process.  The saga continues.  Victoria, the ACT and South Australia have formally signed on to the plan but not NSW or Queensland as this piece 'Murray-Darling stoush helps no-one' notes:
26 June 2013

"The standoff continues between State and Federal Governments on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Queensland and New South Wales Governments believe the current deal on offer leaves them holding the short straw, and now say they won’t sign up until they are offered a fair compromise. The Federal Government’s plan is technically legally binding, so there may not be a great deal the States can actually do. Jonathan La Nauze from the Australian Conservation Foundation says, “The Commonwealth now has the power to set limits on how much water can be taken out of river  valleys... that's an important independent power that they have to look after our shared interests”, but those rivers are still managed on a day-to-day basis by State Governments. They're the ones who actually own and manage most of the dams and the channels, the regulators that control where water flows... if the Commonwealth actually has to intervene and force them to comply, it'll be quite an expensive exercise that's really not the best way to achieve the outcome”.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman seems resolute in his stance, saying the Plan would have dire consequences for rural communities, and he won’t accept funding or take responsibility for implementing the plan until changes are made.

Ultimately the states must conform to the Federal Government’s impositions, reports say that trying to impede progress would only chew up taxpayer funds before finding in the Commonwealth’s favour."

I wonder if the Liberal (Conservative) premiers of NSW and Queensland know something others do not? For example is there a 'behind-closed doors' deal within the Liberal-National Party that parts of the legislation will be repealed or manipulated when (if) they are elected federally?

In my view Australian water governance suffered another blow this past week when Indpendent MP Tony Windsor announced his intention to resign from Federal Parliament.  We gave evidence before a Parliamentary Committee he chaired and I found him open and receptive and above all polite - more than could be said for some of the National Party members of his committee. Tony Windsor had a systemic sensibility.  He has also achieved a lot in parliament (e.g. his role in recent legislation restricting coal seem gas exploitation), particularly over his period of minority government, as this testimonial from GetUp outlines:

"I just wanted to let you know about some good news this week – and share an opportunity to say thank you to the MP who helped make it happen. Parliament passed the ‘water trigger bill’ which will ensure the impact on water is considered before CSG or coal projects are approved.
One of the many scary things about CSG mining is the threat it poses to our water supply. Pumping huge volumes of chemicals underground, at high pressure, can have a detrimental impact on our water reserves. 

Until now, the Federal Government has had no legal power to intervene in cases where water resources could be put at risk. This week, Parliament agreed to change that. As a result, the Federal Government is already contacting scores of mines and CSG projects to demand a thorough analysis on the impact of their plans on ground and surface water.

Independent MP Tony Windsor introduced and championed the Bill to make this happen. It’s been a long fight, and we reckon he deserves a huge “congratulations”.

We’ve booked a huge “thank you” advertisement in Mr Windsor’s local paper so his constituents can see what he achieved this week. Wouldn’t it be great if thousands of us from across the country signed it, to show that good deeds and hard fights pay off?"

Bernard Keane writing in Crikey made excellent points about Windsor and his fellow Independent Rob Oakeshott:

 "For much of the last three years, Windsor and Oakeshott have looked like the only adults in Parliament -- particularly Windsor, who always seemed to take seriously the stuff that needed to be taken seriously but knew that most of the rest was nonsense. Windsor also had a healthy scepticism of the media, deriding the pretensions of News Ltd, which openly declared war on Oakeshott, and noting the inability of press gallery journalists to cope with the idea of a hung parliament and the scary idea that legislation might actually be debated, negotiated and amended rather than being rubber-stamped by Parliament."

"Tony Windsor began and ends his political career with hung parliaments. He was elected as an independent to the New South Wales Parliament in 1991, at the same election that reduced Nick Greiner, remarkably, to a minority government. As for why Windsor was an independent, rather than the Nationals MP he originally was a candidate to become, you can ask the NSW Nationals. As they would learn repeatedly over the ensuing two decades, you mess with Tony Windsor at your peril.
Greiner himself didn't last much longer after the Metherell affair. But the Greiner-Fahey government, despite its minority status, ran full term, with Windsor's support -- demonstrating that hung parliaments can be stable and deliver outcomes. Bob Carr only narrowly won power in 1995.

Windsor, knowingly or not, created a brand -- the independent who saw how much for granted the Nationals, particularly in NSW, took the bush, and offered an alternative. He held his seat in 1995, again in 1999, and then in 2001 tried for a federal seat. And not just any federal seat, but New England, Nationals heartland and the one-time kingdom of Nats leader Ian Sinclair. Windsor handily defeated Sinclair's successor, Stuart St Clair. Six years before, Peter Andren had entered politics and seized Calare from the Nationals."

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