Contributed by Ben Wilson
Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister, and leader of the National Party, has always been a slippery character with a reputation for crossing the line when it comes to conflict of interest. He is at it again over his decision to scrap the national body to overlook major water projects. It was established just two years ago.
Critics, including Stuart Khan, a member of the now defunct National Water Grid Advisory Body and water engineering expert at the University of NSW, charge that the purpose is to pork barrel for political advantage, by providing $5.9 billion in funding for the Urannah and Hells Gates dams in north Queensland, and other projects, the Dungowan Dam and the Wyangala Dam wall raising in NSW. All these projects are controversial.
Take the Hells Gates Dam as an example. The project threatens the health of the Burdekin River catchment, the Great Barrier Reef, and the water supply of nearby towns. All for the sake of providing irrigation to some big landowners.
Photo by Phil Copp/Getty: The threatened Burdekin River catchment in north Queensland
Doing this on the eve of an election to buy local support for members of parliament that might be in trouble is disgraceful.
The need to submit detailed plans and costing has been bypassed. Joyce’s act opens the door to project approval without proper costing and environmental sustainability tests.
Khan says, “Responsible management of Australia’s water resources is of enormous importance in a country prone to extreme drought and extreme floods.
“Water infrastructure investment decisions are far too important, with far too many consequences, to be used for brazenly political purposes in the lead-up to an election.
“It is apparent that the Commonwealth commitment to funding it is being used as a device intended to extract political benefit.”
As the driest inhabited continent on Earth, water security is of tremendous importance to Australia. Especially so with the climate change crisis already making the water shortage problem worse. This means that water management is critical to future liveability, health, agriculture, and the economy.
The National Water Grid Advisory Body was the result of public criticism of past government inaction on this critical issue. It was not perfect, but its scrapping signals a return to the days of complete unaccountability.
Australia must do much more to protect existing water reserves, by ensuring there is a national plan that guarantees its rational use and ensures water is managed sustainably. By moving in the opposite direction, Barnaby Joyce and the Morrison government are continuing their failure to act on the climate.