Sunday, October 15, 2006

Leftist State governments are to blame for Australia's urban water shortages, not nature

They haven't built dams for years, despite big population growth

Justified concern about the severity of the drought now facing Australia should not be allowed to obscure the abject failure of governments around the nation to secure adequate supplies of an essential resource. The failure is a lack of foresight rooted in political pork-barrelling to rural irrigators and greed at the expense of city water users. The result has been environmental degradation requiring billions of dollars to address, a crisis in agriculture during periods of low rainfall and the absurd situation of water rationing in a country at the peak of its prosperity. The problem for urban consumers has arisen because water has been traded through state monopolies that, when faced with a squeeze of their own making, have simply turned off the tap.

As reported in The Australian yesterday, the first national audit of water resources conducted by the National Water Commission has found the states continued to fail in water management. And the blame-shifting continued at yesterday's inaugural meeting of the Council for the Australian Federation, where yet another promise was made for a national focus on water. But there has been little progress on the long-promised national water market and the most pressing task: the buyback of water rights that have been over-allocated for decades by state governments keen to curry political support. Such a buyback has been identified as the most sensible - and cheapest - way to save rivers in the Murray-Darling system. The drought has made the task urgent but there is a reluctance for political and economic reasons. Buying back only water saved through covering open channels, and introducing drip irrigation and better water management has proved too slow and not enough. But new technology must be adopted. Among the predictions in The Australian's groundbreaking 2026 series starting next Saturday is that current irrigation methods will have disappeared in 20 years' time. Without these advances, it is hard to see how we can continue to justify growing water-hungry crops such as cotton and rice.

None of this addresses the issue of long-term underfunding in urban water resources. By 2026, water consumption in Brisbane will have increased more than 60 per cent. In Sydney, it will be up 35 per cent, with a similar figure in Melbourne. As the present restrictions demonstrate, water authorities have been negligent in planning for the future, both in terms of storage and interstate co-operation. Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water Malcolm Turnbull has clearly outlined how greed has sponsored the short-term planning. It has done so because delivering "old" water from existing dams is very cheap, but delivering "new" water from new infrastructure is very high. This means that when government-owned water utilities have been faced with an excess of demand over supply they have protected cash flow and dividends by introducing water restrictions. The drought has brought the house of cards tumbling down, however, because restrictions are causing political pain. It is a classic tale of how state monopolies fail consumers. In the absence of market forces and competition, governments have treated water as a cash cow and run their businesses into the ground. The drought has forced a reappraisal that must ultimately bring proper price signals to the water market. This will both deal with uneconomic farm practices and stop the absurd situation whereby elderly residents are forced to water their garden using a bucket.


The decline of Australia's police

Two former top cops are sickened and dismayed by some aspects of the way Victoria Police is being run. Former deputy commissioner Keith Thompson and former superintendent in charge of advanced training Geoff Tulloch say today's force lacks a visible presence, which is leaving the community vulnerable. They also believe officers, constables and senior constables in particular, lack supportive supervision and confidence to administer law and order for fear of admonishment, or a worse penalty.

Both former policemen have spoken out after the Herald Sun last week highlighted the plight of former Det Sen-Sgt John Wilde who was bashed in the city, yet had to push for an investigation.

"There aren't enough troops. Where people are and where there's problems, that's where police ought to be," Mr Thompson, now 80, told the Herald Sun. "I belong to two (Rotary-sponsored) Probus groups and am convinced that people in my age group have stopped going out at night because they don't feel safe." In his day, he said, some troublemakers who disrespected police received a kick up the backside. "Whether society's changed or whether police have let it change, I don't know," he said.

Last year in broad daylight, six would-be robbers accosted Mr Thompson outside Young & Jackson's Hotel in the city. In Flinders Lane one night he saw a man flashing his genitals and yelling "here it is girls, come and get it." On both occasions, there was no sign of a police patrol. More recently, at Telstra Dome, he watched in dismay as two young policemen were told, "and I quote, to p--- off, and that's exactly what they did".

Mr Tulloch, now 72, asked his local senior sergeant to meet residents and explain why they were not receiving service when reporting certain types of crime. He said: "It is quite apparent, certainly in my area, that what once used to be called a crime is not viewed that way any more." He is also disappointed by disrespect shown to police, like youths calling them "pigs" and goading them to fight. "Force command want an honest police force . . . but it would appear officers are sometimes reluctant to enforce those powers, and the criminals are laughing where once upon a time they used to tremble. "I always recommended the police force as a great career, but in recent times I've had reservations in recommending it. Something's changed."


Look out for Big John

John Howard is setting out an aggressive agenda for changing institutional Australia after a decade of being defensive, writes political editor Dennis Shanahan

Former rock singer, songwriter and now Labor backbencher Peter Garrett took John Howard to task last week, accusing him of being a "philistine" entranced with sport and neglectful of the arts. On Tuesday night, as the guest speaker at the 50th anniversary of the literary and opinion magazine Quadrant, the Prime Minister took a swipe at what he saw as a political parvenu. Howard began one of the most important speeches of his 10 years in office with the observation that he had "succumbed to Peter Garrett's advice and decided to spend a night of poetry and discussion" after feasting his sporting love by attending two football grand finals at the weekend.

Garrett had done well in getting noticed from the Opposition backbench in promoting arts funding in Australia in a rare public foray for the high-profile Labor recruit. But the timing could not have been worse. It's one thing to prod the barbarians at the gate but it's entirely something else to insult them as they ransack the citadel.

In Tuesday night's speech, Howard set out an aggressive agenda for changing institutional Australia. He pointed to some victories already and, after a decade of being defensive publicly, he revealed a new attacking attitude. Long pilloried as "Little Johnny Howard", Australia's second longest serving prime minister intends to leave a big footprint in Australian history. Howard set education and particularly the universities as the final and most important target in his quest to have Australian institutions reflect more closely what he sees as a fair representation of Australian values. It is a more conservative, pragmatic and "commonsense" world in which ideology is rejected in favour of realistic results.

It is a battle too often superficially pigeon-holed as the culture wars, a civil society or tagged with meaningless Left and Right political labels. There are inexplicable forces at work in Australia involving a complex mix of prosperity, popular nationalism, insecurity, jingoism, faith, materialism, fear and pragmatism, which defy easy definition.

The astounding outpouring of national grief for the loss of Steve Irwin, a wildlife "warrior", signified much more about national values and priorities than simple mawkish celebrity worship.

But Howard has recognised that no institutional change can take place, no matter how attractive to a commonsense approach, without an underpinning philosophy. As a contributor to Quadrant, Howard was at home among the elite of radical conservative thought in Australia, led by editor Padraic Pearse McGuinness with his Elizabethan ruff of a beard and uncompromising editorial rigour.

Earlier in the day, at a far more prosaic Liberal fundraiser attended by hundreds of business people, Howard demonstrated he is already on the election campaign trail and setting out the political parameters. He is linking his weakness, industrial relations, with his strength, economic prosperity, as he campaigns on being a conviction politician fighting for what he believes. "I think the best way that we can build our nation is to keep and expand the prosperity we now have. And I will be saying to the Australian people again and again ... you have to make a choice as to which side of politics you think is better able to maintain the prosperity we both agree exists. And that is my central thesis to you and to the Australian people," he said.

But that was overt campaign pitch from a man who's setting the pace for his parliamentary colleagues. His far more important message was his agenda to change the institutions to reflect his views more closely. As one former Quadrant editor who certainly wasn't at the dinner, academic Robert Manne, was reported yesterday as saying it is surprising how powerful Howard believes the Left is: "What interests me is the sense in which you have to keep alive the sense of an enemy in order to function, even when that enemy, the cultural Left, is probably at its lowest point in my memory."

Certainly Howard has determinedly changed things: the tenor of the High Court is no longer one of judicial activism but is now an enlightened, independent lawyerly institution under Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, and conservative think-tanks flourish under the Coalition where once there were few conservative voices but Quadrant. Yet Howard sees a threat through a continuum in the "philocommunists" of the Cold War and the New Left in the "soft Left" of today, and is indeed seeking to engage the enemy.

And no cause of engagement creates greater feeling from Howard, a man both pumped up and liberated by his speech, than education and history, the Left's remaining citadel. "Of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart, none is more important to me than the role it has played as counterforce to the black-armband view of Australian history," Howard declared with ABC board member and historian Keith Windschuttle in the audience. "Until recent times it had become almost de rigueur in intellectual circles to regard Australian history as little more than a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare," he said. "Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, (note: compared with the one of the Howard Government) we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft Left still holds sway, especially in Australia's universities, by virtue of its long march through the institutions," he said.

He pointed to the "more fashionable, progressive views that have held sway in schools and universities" and his own call for a "root-and-branch renewal of Australian history in our schools, with a restoration of narrative instead of what I labelled the fragmented stew of themes and issues". Howard also linked the commonsense - his favourite word of late - education of children in literacy and numeracy with national values and success and rejected the"incomprehensible sludge" in some curriculums.

It is little wonder that within 72 hours of Howard's speech, Education Minister Julie Bishop was proposing a federal takeover of state education curriculums. From philosophical footprint to practical push within three days. Howard is determined to take action, as one Liberal observer put it inevitably on Tuesday night: "He's been playing defensive shots for a long time but now he's on the front foot and determined to score runs off attacking shots."

It's enough to put Garrett off poking the sporting barbarians, but shouldn't. A resurgence in conservative thought is a good thing; a hegemony of any single strand of thought is not. As Howard quoted from a Czech writer with great prescience: "You can't build utopia without terror and before long terror is all that's left."


Savaging a myth

Comment by Andrew Bolt

This weird love our cultural elite has for the Noble Savage can, of course, be as innocent as Rebecca Hossack's dream of being buried like an Aboriginal. Hossack, who runs a swish art gallery in London and was the first cultural attache at our High Commission, has two Aboriginal burial poles in her basement: one for herself and one for her husband. As the glossy Melbourne Magazine ooh-ahhed this month: "When she dies, Hossack says, her bones will be bleached on the roof of her London house, placed in her burial pole and sent back to Australia."

Like I say, it's innocent. No one is inconvenienced, unless Hossack's heirs get the creeps waiting for the skeleton on the roof to turn white. Or the neighbours take fright at the vultures suddenly settling on the gutters of Notting Hill, clutching looser bits of Hossack's rotting remains.

You might think other signs of this new craze for the myth of deeply spiritual savages living in some Garden of eco-Eden -- with white capitalists cast as the snake -- are just as harmless. Who cares if the ladies of Armadale decree that dot paintings by artists certified as genuinely Aboriginal and genuinely poor are a must for the well-dressed wall? At least some artists out bush will get a few honorably earned dollars out of it. And the dry-cleaners of Melbourne could only have profited from the salvation seekers who queued at a phony Aboriginal "sacred fire" at Kings Domain during the Commonwealth Games to get themselves ritually smoked.

But not all of this romanticising about the good old Stone Age is quite so cute. I'm thinking, for instance, of Tom Calma's attack on the Howard Government's Bill to stop Aboriginal wife-bashers and child-abusers from using the excuse that their barbarity was permitted by "tribal law". (The Government had in mind the 55-year-old man who was initially jailed for just one month for anally raping a 14-year-old girl, the judge accepting that under tribal law the victim was his promised bride.)

Wrote Calma, paid big to be our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner: "The problem is that this Bill does not address family violence in the indigenous communities in any meaningful way. "Rather, it will undermine attempts to solve the problem and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Aboriginal customary law." Hmm. Does Calma seems more worried by the damage done to the image of tribal law than by the damage such laws do to a 14-year-old girl?

But he is not alone in re-imagining tribal ways to be gentler -- and greener -- than they really were and are. Many others want to forget the truth -- that even an anthropologist as sympathetic to Aboriginal causes as Professor Peter Sutton says in his essay The Politics of Suffering that "a man's right to beat his wife without interference" can be described by Aborigines as the "Blackfella way" and "high levels of interpersonal violence" have long been "sanctioned" by Aboriginal laws.

No, no, no. Our assorted earth-worshippers, snowfield socialists and freedom-fearers don't want to hear that. They prefer to hear High Priests of the primitive like . . . why, David Suzuki! Suzuki, the famed green guru and broadcaster from Canada, is in Australia yet again, this time for a month-long "farewell" tour from Byron Bay to Broome. I heard him recently at a government-sponsored conference in Ballarat as I waited my own turn to speak, and was astonished to find how crazed his hectoring had become -- yet how rapturously an audience of public servants cheered him. The capitalist world was eating up the world and was "on a suicidal path", I heard him cry. "We live in a world that is absolutely shattered." How grimly pleased the audience was to hear it.

The ways of the West were rotten, he stormed. "Conventional economics is a form of brain damage" and science was just "bulls--- to baffle". We needed no more scientific discoveries, or even research. "The last thing in the world people need is more information." (Except, of course, for the information in Suzuki's book, which he duly plugged, sold and signed.) And it was "disgusting" we lived in bigger houses than did our grandparents: "What kind of a world is this that regards this as progress?" Oh, how the audience loved it all. For the culturally privileged, this is the anti-rational, back to womb-cave, message of our times.

So what was Suzuki offering in place of the reason that has made us so rich and free? Indian ways. Aboriginal ways. Like those wise tribal folk, he said, we had to treat nature as "sacred" and live "in balance" with it. And then Suzuki, who boasts of being an honorary chief of the Cree Indians and an honorary "Mountain Man" of South Australia's Kaurna Aborigines, did a riff that borrowed from his book Wisdom of the Elders. As he says there, "The Native Mind is imbued with a deep sense of reverence for nature" and "Native wisdom . . . regards the human obligation to maintain the balance of the health of the natural world as a solemn spiritual duty". On he went, urging us to worship the earth as Noble Savages allegedly did back when humans led "more stable" lives "in a state of nature". Think Eden.

It's all as Harvard anthropologist Steven A. LeBlanc says in his fine new book, Constant Battles -- not only is the myth of the Noble Savage back in fashion, "it seems that the native people of North America, along with a few other social groups like the Australian Aborigines, have become the poster children for the 'noble savage' concept today".

But the Noble Savage is a fraud. "To think that we have lost our 'roots' or are somehow out of touch with our ancient ancestors -- and have lost the ability to live in peace and in ecological balance -- is a myth and a dangerous one", LeBlanc says. In fact, from the very first days humans emerged, they have constantly and bloodily fought for more to eat after first plundering the land they already have. Forget any of that tribal looking-after-nature stuff. LeBlanc tells of Indians hunting buffalo by driving whole herds over cliffs. He shows how other tribal hunter-gathers tore down branches from fruit trees to make huts, hunted animals to extinction and didn't care if their animal prey were males or females pregnant with next year's dinner.

The story was no different here. LeBlanc could have quoted Edward Curr, a squatter from the Murray who saw how the Bangerang hunted in the 1840s: "(T)hey never spared a young animal with a view to its growing bigger. I have often seen them, at an instance, land large quantities of fish with their nets and leave all small ones to die within a yard of the water." Indeed, LeBlanc went through 30 years of issues of Human Ecology, a top journal of anthropology, looking for evidence of tribes living in harmony with nature in the way Suzuki claims, but concluded: "There are no clear examples of conservationist behaviour in any traditional societies reported during the last three decades."

Why is he so keen to finish off the Noble Savage? Because we won't otherwise see what a great chance we've been given by our Western ways -- our science, our technology and our reason. "For the first time in history, technology and science enable us to understand Earth's ecology and our impact on it, to control population growth, and to increase the carrying capacity in ways never before imagined. The opportunity for humans to live in long-term balance with nature is within our grasp if we do it right."

THAT means using our brains -- not some fake native "wisdom" that never was -- to feed and house everyone without exhausting the land, so eliminating the greatest cause of wars. Already we are less likely to die in battle than our tribal ancestors ever were. Kill off the Noble Savage for good, and we may yet live in that peace and "balance" of which Suzuki dreams -- but with, and thanks to, the wealth he claims he spurns


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