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Brumby's water hypocrisy (or Spin running dry)

Plug the Pipe media release, 7th July 2008

Original media release at

An article by The Age's Peter Ker in last Wednesday's newspaper has provided some illuminating comments from Premier John Brumby during the lead up to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) confrontation with the hapless Penny Wong. In that article the Premier pledges to stand up for Victorian farmers and to resist pressure from other states to lift the 4% trading cap on water within Victoria.

He is reported as saying:

"We won't be supporting any increase in that cap. The fact is, there's just no water around - whether it's water for farmers or water for cities or water for irrigators or water for the environment, we're all short of water."

I wonder if the Premier realised what he was saying here in terms of his mindless push for billions of litres of water to be extracted from the very same farmers and the Murray River catchment each year.

After construction, the North South Pipeline may be pumping dust by the time it is ready to turn on in 2010.

It is also quite clear that this statement is an acknowledgement that the Premier's "New Water", or water derived from so called Goulburn Valley irrigation "savings" cannot be achieved because there is no water to save. To be viable, the Foodbowl "savings" plan requires 900 GL of losses from the irrigation districts per anum. This year the irrigation districts lost a record low of 380 GL voiding the saving plan and with the onset of worsening conditions, it is bound to be even less this year. After construction, the North South Pipeline may be pumping dust by the time it is ready to turn on in 2010. Other Brumby built pipeline infrastructure may achieve this much earlier.

This year, if conditions do not improve, Bendigo and Ballarat will not have any water to pump through the Goldfields Superpipe as they have the same water security as irrigators. Currently irrigators have a zero allocation and hence so does Bendigo and Ballarat. The water shortage has been so severe last season that the government granted Bendigo 10 of the 30 billion litres from the Eildon Dam's Environmental Reserve. This water is normally used to protect the rivers in the Murray Darling Basin against dangerous Blue Green Algae blooms that can occur when the river system has low flows.

The Brumby Government intends to accumulate a proportion of Eildon's environmental reserve water using a process known as "carry over" because it was acknowledged in early pipeline planning stages that the irrigation "savings" would not be available in sufficient quantities until 2012. This timeline is now unlikely to be met, however this means Bendigo, Ballarat and Melbourne will be dependent on the environmental reserve water and in competition for it.

What does all this mean for the Murray River? Just another aspect of how flawed the North South Pipeline is, that's what. The environmental reserve was created in wetter times and could possibly help in the Murray Crisis this year, but no, the Brumby Government, not content with just stealing water from irrigators, has reached a new all-time low.

How can the Murray be helped? Abandon the NS pipeline, leave Eildon's environmental reserve water to the Murray Darling Basin or Bendigo and Ballarat which are in a crisis, use the little water savings from the irrigation modernisation to help farmers and increase the flows of the Murray River.

The North South Pipeline will make the Murray River drier, Melbourne's extraction of 75 billion litres from its system is equivalent to building a new dam the size of the Tullaroop Reservoir. The water savings plans will also remove futher billions of litres of water from the Basin. The government's water plans are going to make the water crisis much worse for Bendigo, Ballarat, the Murray Darling Basin and rural communities. It is time for the Brumby government to stop its spin and start to address the water crisis in a responsible manner.

Brumby ready for stoush over water by Peter Ker and Paul Austin, July 3, 2008, The AGE at

Media contact: Eril Rathjen - 0488 329 266

See also: I will govern for all Victorians (caveat: but only if you are powerful and connected) of 26 Jun 08, Melbourne protests mass population growth and its profiteers of 7 Jul 08, Grave concerns: new state residential zones and loss of council planning powers in Melbourne of 7 Jul 08.


"Water: north–south pipeline Mr WELLER (Rodney)"

"— I wish to raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Water concerning the ongoing issues surrounding the north–south pipeline. The action I seek from the minister is that he halt and abandon plans for the north–south pipeline. In simple terms, I ask that these flawed plans be scrapped.

It is time for the government to concede defeat and all parties concerned to be consulted on much more realistic, fair and achievable options for water distribution.

Melbourne has other sources of water it can utilise, and it makes no sense either to the people of Rodney or in applying the laws of basic logic that abundant stormwater supplies in urban areas are being ignored at such a time. If a child poured a full glass of water down the sink, turned around and demanded a refill from their sibling who was scraping the last drops from a smaller cup, would we not reprimand them? So why is it okay for anyone, let alone the authorities, to endorse this sort of behaviour?

The merits of taking 75 000 megalitres from north of the Great Dividing Range is bordering on insanity when the world is screaming out for food and the Murray River needs water for its own survival. With the focus on energy and carbon trading and when there are more efficient options in Melbourne itself, why would we pump water over a mountain range? The government should let Melbourne Water invest its proposed $1 billion contribution to the plan into stormwater and recycling projects for Melbourne. The government should then allocate the extra $300 million Melbourne Water contribution to fully fund the state’s commitment to the $2 billion food bowl modernisation project. It is now a well-established fact that resistance to the north–south pipeline plan is broad, fierce and unwavering. The people of the Goulburn-Murray region will simply not relinquish their water supplies and support this project.

The government has tried to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes with its clandestine planning process and misleading — frankly fraudulent — public statements, but it has not worked. I am sure I speak for many in rural electorates when I point out that on a daily basis we are inundated with inaccurate figures designed to confuse the public and justify the pipeline project.

Surely the government cannot expect us to accept these untruths, mismeasured figures and blatant lies?

As a representative from the north, I confirm that our waterways are in a distressed state. We are some of the biggest food producers in the state, and the pipeline plans are putting industry in jeopardy. I appeal to the minister for support on this issue. It is a matter of life and death for the river, and I say that without a trace of insincerity. It is time the government swallowed its pride, scrapped the pipeline plans and reassessed the much more sensible and ecologically realistic options in Melbourne."

PARLIAMENT OF VICTORIA HANSARD, Revised Book 9, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 ASSEMBLY p.2453

This comment comes from a press release dated Tuesday 15 July, "Where's the probity? Why can they get away with it?" by MP Sharman Stone, at

Victorian Liberal MP for Murray, Sharman Stone writes:

"The Victorian Labor Government has contracted out key evaluations for the business case for upgrading the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation System, leaving construction firms who are expected to vie for future the project work, to determine whether it’s worth doing the work or not.

The federal funding of the so-called Stage Two of the Foodbowl Modernisation was contingent on a ‘due diligence’ study, which you would normally expect to be carried out by an independent government department, according to Dr Sharman Stone, Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs and Federal Member for Murray.

“When the Brumby Labor Government finally signed on to the Murray Darling Basin National Water Security Plan, they were allocated $1 billion for Stage Two of the Foodbowl Modernisation Scheme, contingent on a due diligence study.

“In an extraordinary move, the Victorian Government has asked the potential contractors to prepare the project evaluation. Some of these contractors are already working on Stage One of the project, which includes the construction of the controversial North South Pipeline.

“This study into Stage Two needs to determine the water savings for the project, which works will be carried out and whether or not the project represents best value for money for the taxpayer. The potential project contractors should not be allowed anywhere near the preparation of the case arguing for best value.

Dr Stone said the Victorian Government’s decision to allow the big engineering companies to basically design their own future project was made behind closed doors. Such a move must call the independence of the report into question.

“Taxpayers need to know the Victorian Government now has quite a history of compromising proper process in relation to water planning in the state. The North South Pipeline, for example, has been set in motion by the Brumby Government without social, economic or comprehensive environmental evaluation. No due diligence was undertaken at all. The recent Auditor General’s report into the state’s water plan slammed this poor practice.

“Already, millions of dollars worth of pipes have been purchased without tender and lie waiting for connection before the Federal Government’s EPBC Act scrutiny has been completed. Landowners along the pipeline route are being pressured to open their properties to pre-construction activity.

“Taxpayers must be concerned that these projects are not being subjected to proper scrutiny, transparency and evaluation. The Foodbowl Modernisation Stage Two project is critical for the future viability of northern Victoria’s food production and the sustainability of the Murray Darling Basin. Already there are concerns that Stage One is being rushed with shody work and lack of proper planning.

“A proper due diligence study must consider all aspects of the Foodbowl Modernisation plan including the diversion of water via a pipeline out of the Murray Darling Basin. Best value for money considerations must include an evaluation of the alternatives for drought proofing Melbourne and Geelong. These quite clearly include recycling and stormwater harvesting.

“Mr Brumby seems hell-bent on pressing ahead without the usual safeguards. It is therefore incumbent upon Federal Water Minister Penny Wong to step in and insist on best practice."

[Sharman Stone is the Federal Member for Murray and Federal Shadow Minister for the Environment. Dr Stone has been Federal Member for Murray since being elected in 1996, was Minister for Workforce Participation from January 2006 to November 2007, under the Howard Government. She is an anthropologist and sociologist.
Her first ministerial appointment was as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from 1998 to 2004.]

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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Copyright to the author. Please contact sheila [AT] candobetter org or the editor if you wish to make substantial reproduction or republish.

Plug the pipeline rally video
Quotable quote: "Brumby will be remembered as the man who made the foodbowl into the dustbowl."
North South Pipeline This video follows the route of the pipeline. It is very clear and informative.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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