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Water Is Political: Barnaby

13 Jun

Following is Barnaby Joyce’s keynote address to The Quest for Water Efficiency Conference, hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Melbourne, 12 June 2013:

Keynote Address: Politics and Water Policy

You can’t understand water unless you understand politics. This is true the world over. The Chinese character for “politics” is derived from root words meaning flood control.

Water is political because it has all the elements that make politics real for people. It involves competing uses, trade-offs, it does not respect state or international boundaries and humankind has been engaged in a centuries-long battle to control water flows against the random destruction of nature.

All of those elements have been in place in Australia over the past decade, as we have swung from our worst drought to the most destructive floods in our history.

Today, I want to argue that while we have got many things right in this country, the politics of water has at times let Australia down in the management of its water resources.

It has become fashionable to talk about the “consumption” of water, mostly in reference to its over-consumption. Indeed, in the Murray-Darling irrigation is referred to as a “consumptive” use of water, in comparison to the environmental uses of water that are apparently more benign.

We use the word consume without thinking too hard about its relevance to water. Water is not like other products or commodities. Burning coal means there is less coal to use, refining oil brings us closer to peak oil but using water does not reduce the amount of water there is in the world.

We only have one allotment of water, and that was delivered to us 4.4 billion years ago. There is no more water being created or destroyed. As the author Charles Fishman has observed, every glass of water you drink has had a rich history, most likely it has been through the digestive systems of dinosaurs, other animals and perhaps other humans before arriving in your glass.

So water cannot be used or consumed, and it is misleading to prosecute rice growers, cotton farmers or urban gardeners as consuming too much. The problem with that analysis is that it implies that the use of water to grow rice in Deniliquin, takes water away from people being able to water their garden in Melbourne but that is not the case.

Like politics, all water policy, is local.

Pointing this out does not mean there is not water scarcity in some areas, or that there are not competing uses of water. But what is important is that the lessons and issues regarding water in one area cannot easily be translated to other areas.

Murray-Darling

The Murray-Darling debate is a perfect example of this. There is a too common view that the Murray-Darling is a system of interconnected garden hoses. There is a misconception that you just need to add water to fix the Murray-Darling’s problems and it doesn’t matter all that much where that water came from.

It was most evident in the controversy that engulfed Cubbie Station for many years. Queenslanders were blamed for the problems of the Lower Lakes. And the reverse was true too. The Lower Lakes were blamed for all of the problems of the Murray-Darling.

Cubbie is just 200 metres above sea level; it is more than 1500 kilometres from the mouth of the Murray. Water that travels from Cubbie to the Great Australian Bight must travel this entire flat distance over sun-drenched areas and thirsty plains. The CSIRO estimates that, in normal conditions, just 18 per cent of the water from the Balonne system, where Cubbie is located, makes its way to the mouth of the Murray.

It reached its zenith when the Adelaide Advertiser declared on its front page that the 2011 Brisbane floods had led to three years of water being wasted! The claim was that the floodwaters that had flowed into Moreton Bay could have been put into the Western Corridor pipeline, sent up the range to Toowoomba, put in the Condamine and magically meandered its way to South Australia.

Putting aside the laws of physics, the laws of irony were breached first. Here was an article arguing that water was being wasted because it was left to flow out to sea near Brisbane, when it could have been, at great cost, sent more than 2000 kilometres away, to … flow out to sea near Adelaide.

Such thinking has real policy outcomes too. It has led to some disastrously wasteful decisions on water recovery in the Murray-Darling. For instance, the government spent $23 million buying Toorale station, shutting down 4 per cent of Bourke’s economy and 10 per cent of Bourke’s rating base. Barely any of the water from Toorale has been delivered to the environment because an environmental assessment conducted after the purchase concluded that the water storages could not be removed without damaging the wildlife that rely on the artificial water storages to survive. As reported by The Australian, Toorale has effectively become Australia’s biggest and most expensive birdbath.

Like in the Toorale purchase, too often governments ignore the wider economic and social costs of their decisions. This should be no surprise. Governments are simply maximising their returns like anyone else would. So it should be no surprise that when water needs to be recovered they would choose the cheapest option available.

There are really two options to save water for the environment in the Murray-Darling.

First, we can buy the water back from licence holders, take the water out of production and return it to the environment. This option does reduce water use in rural Australia. It will reduce food production and mean fewer jobs and economic development in regional towns.

Second, we can invest in more efficient ways of using water, thus being able to return water to the environment without reducing the amount of food produced or regional economic activity.

Water buybacks are cheaper. They typically cost about $2000 per megalitre, whereas infrastructure investment can cost anywhere from $2000 to $5000 per megalitre.

So it should be no surprise that a cash-strapped government has gone for the cheaper option. So far Labor has invested just 10 per cent of the funds available for water infrastructure investment. In contrast, it has spent 70 per cent of the funds available to buyback water.

The Coalition believes that this approach is too skewed. Governments should be made to consider the wider economic and social impacts of their decisions. If society would like to take 2750 gigalitres of water out of agricultural production, then it should be willing to face up to the full social cost of that change, including the loss of jobs and regional development.

Requiring at least some of the water recovery to come through infrastructure investment makes governments face up to those costs.

That is why the Coalition has proposed capping water buybacks at 1500 gigalitres. The government has already recovered around 1250 gigalitres through water buybacks. That means that the maximum additional buyback that Murray-Darling communities would face would be an additional 250 gigalitres.

It should be noted that this is the government’s own water recovery strategy too. At the moment, they plan to get 1500 gigalitres of the required water through buybacks. It is just that the Labor Party, unlike the Coalition, will not commit to this target.

Last year, the Coalition tried to amend some of the legislation enabling the Basin Plan to insert this cap as a legally binding rule. The Government did not support us, and neither did the country independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

We believe that a cap on buybacks will provide the 2.1 million people who live in the Murray-Darling Basin the certainty to get on and plan for their futures. While the threat of future water buybacks is there, that cannot happen.

We are constantly told that there are enormous opportunities for Australia to export food to the rising middle class. Given that the Murray-Darling produces 40 per cent of our agriculture, that area has to be part of any strategy to boost exports to Asia.

How will we take those opportunities though if we won’t give agricultural communities the certainty of how much water will be available for productive use? How much mining investment do you think we would attract if we said, we will sell you this tenement but we will decide annually how much coal you can export each year, and that amount may change depending on the political environment of the time?

This is especially so in water where many people have lost trust in this government to manage the $10 billion the Coalition put aside for the Murray-Darling in 2007. In 2011, a bi-partisan committee, chaired by Tony Windsor, concluded that:

The Committee heard of grave mistrust of this department across Basin communities resulting from the failure of the department to identify and respond to community concerns on a range of issues. In addition, this department has demonstrated a consistent failure to deliver water programs, including strategic water buyback, which is in the best interests of productive communities. This department should no longer be responsible for delivering these programs.

Remember that this comment was not a partisan one; it was signed off by Liberal, National, Labor and Independent members. It is often remarked that overseas investors have a more positive view of Australian agriculture than domestic investors. But if they can’t trust their own government, why would they invest?

Northern Australia and Dams

In my view the same blindness to economic and social impacts has contributed to the fact that Australia has not built a dam for more than 20 years. Bert Kelly once remarked that every time he heard funding for a dam announced, he could feel an election coming on. You could almost say the reverse now. Every time you hear a proposed dam being scrapped, you can feel an election coming on.

There are some good reasons why we are not building more dams in the more developed parts of Australia. For one, where we have developed the best dam sites have been taken. For instance, this was evident in the Queensland Government’s proposal to build a dam at Traveston on a geological fault line in an area that would have delivered a dam with an average depth of only around 5 metres. A more than $2 billion cost for a yield of only around 100 megalitres was not value for money.

But there have been some very poor reasons why we have not built dams.

Another reason we have not built dams is because we were told that it would not rain again thanks to climate change. Those predictions have been far off the mark, and a study the other day now claims that climate change will lead to more flooding in the Murray-Darling not less.

Another of those reasons is that we have not looked at the local costs and benefits of building dams. As I said above, all water issues are local issues. But we have been too ready to take the advice on dam building from other countries, or more developed areas of Australia, and apply them to the entire country; such as when areas of our country that are not as developed still have lots of potential for a variety of water supply options. No one option, be it dams or something else, should be pre-emptively vetoed.

That is why the Coalition established the Dams and Water Management Task Group that I am the Deputy Chair of. That group has travelled to every state and territory in the country looking at potential sites and investigating water supply options. A leak earlier this year suggested that the Coalition is going to build 100 dams but we are not about to let 100 flowers boom.

More than 100 potential dam sites have been suggested to us but only a fraction of these will ever be built or even considered. Some of the suggestions are just ideas, others are more substantial but have not been looked at since the days of Surveyor-Generals and Public Works departments. A lot more work will need to be done on most before a dam can be built. All the more reason we should start now.

Water is wealth and dams put water away when it rains to ensure that it is available in drier times. Dams throughout Australia help produce Australia’s food, support towns and communities, produce the majority of Australia’s renewable energy, act as an essential input to our manufacturing and mining industries and help mitigate the impacts of floods.

Australia experiences a highly variable rainfall climate and therefore the use of dams to moderate the impacts of this cycle are more important here than in most other countries. For example, Melbourne’s water supply system has 10 times the per capita storage volume of London’s water supply system for this very reason.

In 1980 Australian dams could hold enough water to supply Australia’s water needs for almost seven years. Today, our dams can hold enough water to store less than six years of water supplies. If no new dams are built, Australia’s storage capacity will fall to below four years’ of supply by 2050.

The Coalition will announce its response to the work of the Dams task group closer to the election but some early findings are clear.

Australia can make better use of its water resources. While Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world, more water is available for use per person in Australia than in North America, Western Europe or Asia.

Australia uses just 6 per cent of its available water, compared to a world average of 9 per cent. Most of that water use goes to produce food and Australia produces enough food to feed 60 million people worldwide. If we increased our water use to equal the world average, Australia could feed almost 100 million people — even before accounting for any future increases in agricultural productivity.

But doing so will take the real vision to invest in our water resources to help the world deal with the future food task. The world population is set to grow by more than 2 billion people in the next half century. As a result, world cereal production will need to increase by three 3 tonnes a year and meat production would need to increase by 200 million tonnes per year.

Achieving any substantial increase in Australia’s agricultural production will need to involve investment in more irrigation. Irrigation generates 50 per cent of Australia’s agricultural profit from less than 2 per cent of our agricultural land. Irrigation produces food more efficiently and in doing so benefits the environment because more food is produced using less land.

That is not to ignore that too much water is used in some parts of Australia. As discussed earlier, over a number of decades, water has been over-allocated in the Murray-Darling, more than 40 per cent of the water available in the Murray-Darling is used for productive purposes and that will be reduced to 33 per cent after the implementation of the Basin Plan.

The level of water use in the Murray-Darling cannot be compared to undeveloped parts of Australia, and any attempt to do so is a gross distortion of the facts. For instance, just 5 per cent of our water resources in northern Australia are used, even though 60 per cent of Australia’s water falls there.

In the north of Australia there is significant potential for new water storages.

Those that are anti-development often claim that the soils in northern Australia are too poor, as if anywhere north and west of Brisbane must be a desert. This is simply incorrect. The CSIRO estimates that there is between 5 and 17 million hectares of arable soil in northern Australia. When the task group visited Go-Go Station in Western Australia, we were advised that there was 100,000 hectares of blacksoil on this property alone.

To put these figures in context, Australia only irrigates 2 million hectares across the entire nation.

The Ord is already expanding to more than double its area under irrigation, and future opportunities may lie in the West Kimberley as well, although these will be further away.

In the Northern Territory there are opportunities to expand the use of groundwater. The Northern Territory’s groundwater resources are poorly understood, and it would appear that the current approach errs on the side of caution because of this lack of knowledge.

Off-stream storage has real potential in the Gulf. The Queensland Government recently sold 80,000 megalitres of water in a tender that was over-subscribed in the Flinders catchment.

In north and central Queensland there are plenty of options some of which will be needed to provide more water to the coal industry.

Decisions on urban water

Most of these immediate water needs will be focused on water for agriculture or mining. The CSIRO estimates that most of our capital cities will not need further water supply augmentations for 10 to 15 years. Although there will be exceptions. Darwin’s population is rapidly growing and a response will probably be needed before then.

While that might seem some time off Australia needs to start planning for new water storages now. It can take 10 to 15 years for a dam to progress from concept to construction completion. We need to start planning for new water supply solutions today before it is too late.

The most recent drought put immense strain on Australia’s urban water resources. Dam levels in Sydney and Melbourne fell below 40 per cent, and below 20 per cent in Brisbane. Governments were forced to make rushed decisions to increase water supplies, and over $10 billion was invested in desalination plants to deliver 500 gigalitres of new water. It is partly because of these investments mean that Australia’s major cities have sufficient supply to meet demand for probably the next 15 years.

Yet it is clear now that mistakes were made. Too much was spent unnecessarily on desalination capacity. Only the desalination plants in Perth are being regularly used to supply water needs, while desalination plants in South-East Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide lie dormant at great cost to water consumers. Water prices have increased by 64 per cent since 2007.

These flawed decisions imposed higher water prices on consumers and potentially cheaper alternatives, such as dams, were ignored or given little consideration.

I don’t want to be too critical of those governments because those decisions were made under political pressure, and no government can afford for a major city to run out of water when facing a drought crisis.

The lesson for us though is a stitch in time saves nine. If we had done the preparation on what should be the future water supply options, then governments could readily evaluate a range of options, rather than jump for those that provided the quickest fix.

That is why the Coalition has committed all infrastructure investments of more than $100 million, that are supported by the Commonwealth, will require an analysis by Infrastructure Australia. That includes the investments that the Coalition will make in dams and other water infrastructure. That approach will be consistent with the National Water Initiative that the former Coalition Government put in place.

The Coalition will also ensure that we conduct feasibility studies now on future water supply options so that we are ready when our future water supplies dwindle. We will have more to say on that in our response to the Dams task group.

Conclusion

As a Senator I have been based in St George for almost eight years. St George is a town that is built on irrigation. A town of no more than 5000 in the district produces more than $500 million of cotton every year, around $200 million in grain and then melons, onions and other produce.

That is all there because we built a dam on the Balonne River and a weir downstream. The result has been a massive increase in productivity.

We are often told that Australia needs to do more to increase its productivity. Well, irrigation is a productivity booster. It turns water into “white gold”. Around 50 per cent of the value added in Australian agriculture comes from the 2 per cent of our land that is irrigated.

As a country we have come through the worst drought in our history. Rightly, much of our water policies over that time have focused on managing water shortages and conserving water for the environment.

But we must also recognise that water has more than just environmental uses. Our policies must be balanced to ensure that we protect the environment, develop our economy and sustain those towns and communities that rely on the use of water to survive.

That is why a Coalition Government will invest water efficiency not just buybacks, that is why a Coalition Government will build new dams to open up new areas of our country to agricultural and mining development and that is why a Coalition Government will start planning today to tackle the water shortages that will come in our future.

Robb And Joyce Have A Vision, Dam It

12 Apr

Media Release – Senator Barnaby Joyce, Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water, and Andrew Robb MP, Shadow Minister for Finance, Deregulation, and Debt Reduction; 12 April 2012:

Northern vision held back by leadership deficit

The Coalition Dams and Water Management Task Group visited the Northern Territory this week and found that the vast economic opportunity of the north is being held back by a culture of bureaucratic inertia and apathy from the Northern Territory Labor government.

“There are enormous economic opportunities in the north of Australia” said Chairman of the Dams Task Group, Andrew Robb.

“Currently 28 per cent of the world’s middle class now lives in the Asia-Pacific. The OECD forecasts that by 2030, 66 per cent of the world’s middle class will live between India and China. This finally delivers to the north what they have lacked, affluent markets close to our ports.

“To take this opportunity though we need to have governments which show leadership and vision. I was astounded that the Northern Territory government snubbed the task group and refused to meet with us. Every other government in Australia, be they Labor or Liberal-National, have welcomed the task group.

“From what we did learn, the Northern Territory government is letting down Territorians. They released a plan for Darwin without any plan for where future water supplies would come from. Down south this kind of stubbornness has lead to the financial disasters of desalination plants. The Northern Territory does not want the same outcome up here.”

Senator Joyce, Deputy Chair of the Dams Committee, said that the government seemed to be hiding between environmentalism rather than doing the hard work of providing a proper balance between economic, social and environmental factors.

“It’s so disappointing when you meet people who want to make a go of it, who want to create a new area of wealth for our nation, but then are held back by stifling bureaucracy and inertia on the part of government.

“It seems like you only have to mention the word “environment” and you are miraculously transformed into an omnipotent being who dare not be questioned. It’s not good enough. Why should we limit water use to an arbitrary figure of 20 per cent? Nobody could tell us.

“That’s absurd. The flow of some of these rivers is half the whole of the Murray, and use is currently less than 1 per cent of what is used in the Murray. Development seems to be stopped because people are afraid the Territory could end up with the issues of the Murray-Darling.”

Tony Abbott established the Coalition Dams and Water Management Task Group in January with the remit to look at options for investment in new or expanded dams throughout Australia. The task group has now visited every State and Territory in Australia and has met with and received submissions from over 100 organisations and individuals.

The task group will issue an interim report in the coming weeks.

Dam Fine Thinking By Robb And Joyce

11 Mar

It’s long past due time that we had some dam fine thinking from politicians, in this land of drought and flooding rains:

MINING companies would be asked to bankroll a host of new dams across the nation, some of which could be owned by taxpayers, under a Coalition bid to unlock private capital reserves and store the water needed for its goal of doubling Australia’s food production.

Water allocations for some projects could also be sold like off-the-plan apartments, where construction doesn’t start until at least 70 per cent of the water take has been pre-purchased by irrigators or miners.

The Sunday Age believes a range of financing options are being considered by the Coalition as it draws up a shortlist of viable dam projects it might sponsor in government.

The opposition dams taskforce is due to release its interim report in the next six weeks, with a list drawn from more than 100 proposed sites put to it.

Most of the projects will be across the rain-soaked north of the country, where miners might finance dams that could also be used for large-scale agriculture.

But dams taskforce chairman Andrew Robb has also visited at least one site in Victoria in the past six months, talking to locals and the Victorian government about the viability of a dam at Lake Buffalo and Lake William Hovell, and an aquifer project backed by Wangaratta Council.

In an interview with The Sunday Age, Mr Robb said a big challenge for an incoming Coalition government would be how to fund infrastructure with a cash-strapped federal budget. He tipped partnerships with the private sector would be optional.

”We won’t have money when we get there. We’re not going to borrow. So how do we unlock very large sums of money sitting on balance sheets in companies around Australia who are not investing because of the crisis of confidence?” he said.

”We have done a lot of work, there’s no one answer to this, but how do we involve the private sector more effectively in all sorts of infrastructure, social and economic?”

Asking mining companies to fund dam projects was one of the options being considered.

”For instance, some of the dam work we are looking at, we think we can get – instead of taxing the mining industry – suggest to them they can invest in a dam and then have access to water to wash their coal. And they’ll pay serious amounts of money, in fact they will pay for the construction of the dam,” he said.

”That is not going to apply in every situation, so it’s a suite of approaches that can be taken, which lead to productivity improving assets being built.”

Dams taskforce deputy chairman Barnaby Joyce said the floods had reinforced the need to store water, both to protect communities from flooding and to acquire reserves for droughts.

”Some of these dams wouldn’t need any public money,” he said. ”And you’d have an asset that might be owned by the government or in some instances it could be private.”

Barnaby Joyce has long been one of the leading proponents for building more dams in Australia.

Barnaby is right.

If It’s Good Enough For Barnaby, Why Not You?

10 Mar

Something got Barnaby fired up enough to write a Letter to the Editor:

GREAT article, Graham Richardson (“Water, water everywhere, none is saved”, 9/3).

Yes, it’s self-evident that above the baying of the never to be happy bio-degradable economics of the Greens, everyone is asking “how about we store some of this abundance for the obvious and imminent time of privation and drought?”.

Even before Dorothea Mackellar wrote about drought and flooding rains, Jacob was interpreting dreams of seven fat cows followed by seven skinny ones. Neither had heard of global warming nor Tim Flannery.

That’s why the Coalition set up a dams task group. We have travelled to every state and there are plenty of dam sites left, especially in the north. Australia uses just 6 per cent of its available water resources compared to a world average of 9 per cent.

By the way, a Mary River dam was a stupid idea because $4 billion for 150,000 megalitres stored in a glorified swamp was not a good investment. Let’s find the good sites and get going building real infrastructure.

Barnaby Joyce, opposition spokesman for water, Canberra, ACT

When was the last time you cared enough about the future of our country to do the same?

Indeed, when was the last time you stopped to think about whether you and your kids really want to end up drinking other people’s recycled piss during the next (inevitable) drought?

Your humble blogger never ceases to be amazed at the abject laziness and “She’ll be right mate, let someone else worry about it” apathy of his fellow Aussies.

If it’s good enough for Barnaby to sit down and write a letter to the editor, what is your problem?

Dam It! At Last!!

5 Oct

Media Release – Senator Barnaby Joyce and The Hon. Andrew Robb, 4 October 2011:

Coalition Dams Task Group to visit southern and central Queensland

The Coalition Dams and Water Management Task Group visits southern and central Queensland from Wednesday to Friday this week. The Task Group will be meeting with people in Brisbane, Toowoomba and Rockhampton to discuss investment in Wivenhoe Dam, Emu Creek Dam (near Toowoomba), Barackdale choke (near Surat), Nathan Dam, Connors Rivers Dam, Rookwood weir and Eden-Ban weir, among other sites.

The Deputy Chair of the Task Group, Barnaby Joyce said that “While the tax forum descends into a meaningless talkfest, the Coalition is continuing the work to deliver policy of real meaning to the Australian people, to deliver a new prospect of regional development and wealth to our state and our nation.

“This brings into clear political focus the difference. One is a summit … sorry forum, the headlines of which seem to be about the things they are not going to discuss, not what they are, and the results of which seem to be the taxes they are going to hike not scrap. While the Coalition is in the field dealing with real issues that will provide real outcomes that can truly develop new areas of our economy and make it bigger and stronger and more resilient.”

Chair of the Coalition’s Dams and Water Management Task Group Andrew Robb said there was a significant place for economically viable new water infrastructure in Queensland.

“Proposals such as the Nathan Dam on the Dawson River and Connors River Dam and pipeline, for example, are of great importance for the state’s coal industry,” Mr Robb said.

“Dams such as these can have multiple purposes including providing reliable water for coal washing, agriculture and general consumption and in other instances hydro-electricity can be in the mix. The right projects can attract strong interest from private sector investors and reduce or eliminate the need for government funding.

“In many cases all that’s needed is the political will to provide certainty in the form of a pipeline of strong projects that will not be stifled by overly onerous regulatory requirements.

“We are looking at a number of possible dam sites across southern Queensland during our visit and will be meeting with key people to get a feel for where the opportunities lie and how the Coalition can support their advancement,” Mr Robb said.

The southern and central Queensland visit follows on from the Task Group’s visit to northern Queensland in May.

Tony Abbott established the Coalition’s dams group in January with the remit to look at options for investment in new or expanded dams throughout Australia. The task group is made up of Andrew Robb (Chairman), Barnaby Joyce (Deputy Chairman), Greg Hunt, Simon Birmingham, Bill Heffernan and Ian Macdonald.

The Task Group has received 50 submissions and over 50 options for investment in new or expanded dams have been suggested to it already.

More information: Senator Joyce’s office – Matthew Canavan 0458 709433

Mr Robb’s office – Cameron Hill 0408 239521

Barnaby: We Must Realise Water Is Wealth

20 May

A must-read article by Senator Barnaby Joyce.

From the Canberra Times (emphasis added):

Canberra, as I have stated before, is an example of an effective policy of regional development.

What makes it possible relies on many ingredients, two of the most important being employment and water. Canberra has an obvious source of jobs and the third longest river in the Murray-Darling basin, the Murrumbidgee. This makes possible Canberra’s ability to invest in an 87GL dam on the Cotter River.

Recently I visited the Gulf in Northern Queensland. This area provides immense opportunity for further development in our agricultural sector. Georgetown sees at least 4000GL go down the Gilbert River every year. The people of Hughendon and Richmond have access to about 2000GL – of which about 5 per cent is currently used. These flows meander down through vast tracts of deep, self-mulching loams with immense food producing capacity.

At the moment there are no large storages to harness this water and use it to produce more food. That is not the fault of the locals, many of whom want to encourage economic development and build the infrastructure to do so.

People like Fred Pascoe, mayor of Carpentaria Shire and head of the Gulf Savannah Development Corporation. He sees that the only way for his fellow indigenous people to get ahead is to have access to the jobs and opportunities that other Australians take for granted. I wish people would speak to Mr Pascoe before they start making decisions about his life and his people.

What Australia has lacked is the vision to develop our water resources for the benefit of the people who live here, for the benefit of our nation as a whole and for the benefit of those who are hungry all over the world.

Instead, what Australia has been doing of late is to take Australia out of the agricultural market by locking up wild rivers, imposing inflexible native vegetation laws and providing tax concessions to plant forests where there used to be livestock and crops. Very handy if we are going to evolve into a higher form of termite but not much use if we want to prevent Australia from becoming a net importer of food.

Just the other night I heard from a farmer in northern NSW who wanted to install a more efficient irrigation system. To do so he would have to clear a grand total of 42 trees. The Government said yes as long as he bought the adjoining property and planted nearly a million trees on it. He has not taken up the offer.

The result is that in 1980 Australia had 496 million hectares of farming land. In 2010 we have 399 million hectares. In 1980 we had roughly 136 million sheep. In 2010 we have 68 million sheep.

What this shows is that in a world where the population is getting bigger we are either producing less or staying stagnant. We are getting more proficient but we are not producing more.

It is no wonder because we are not investing in the capital to do so.

We have not built a major dam for over 20 years. In 1980 we could store in dams about 4.5ML per person. Now the figure is just over 3.5ML. By 2050, if we don’t build any more dams, it will be below 2.5ML per person.

That is why the Coalition will build more dams. The Coalition’s dams task group, that I am the deputy chairman of, is the first step in that process.

Water is wealth and dams make hungry people happy. We should realise that domestic environmental policies have a real effect on real people beyond our nation’s borders. We also should have a quiet little wake-up call to ourselves that we are importing more and more of our food, predominantly from South-East Asia.

I always thought that we would be feeding South-East Asia not being fed by South-East Asia.

When you make the conscious choice for Australia to eat somebody else’s food you are implicitly endorsing their environmental practices: strip fishing, clearing of jungles and rainforests, endorsement of sweatshop labour as a preference to Australian awards. That is your choice.

I would prefer that we have a clean, green agricultural sector in Australia but to do so we have to make the investments which allow it to grow alongside our population.

For all those “green” cargo cult members who oppose building more dams, whilst at the same time crying poor on behalf of poverty-stricken nations abroad, please consider the following news story from AAP:

Nepal faces malnutrition crisis as UN scales back

The United Nations is to stop distributing food to nearly a million people in remote western Nepal because of funding shortfalls, threatening a major health crisis, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, with more than half the population living on less than $1.25 a day. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says 41 percent of Nepalese people are estimated to be undernourished.

But the WFP says it does not have enough funds to continue flying supplies by helicopter to western Nepal, where road access is patchy and around a million people rely on UN food aid.

More dams, means more food.

More food, means cheaper food.

For more human beings.

Barnaby is right.

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