Drink it, Morris, drink it

I seek to make this blog strongly independent and non-partisan as much as possible, so seeing my previous post had a grumpy dig at some federal Liberals, I thought I would balance the scales here by having a rant about the continued cowardly foolishness of the Labor Premiers in refusing to adopt the use of purified recycled water. In some ways this is worse, as my criticism of some Liberals was for engaging in some breathtaking bullshit, which one could argue is moderately harmless in isolation. On the other hand, Labor Premiers have been engaging in a major prolonged policy blunder which is harming our water supplies and will inevitably lead to greater cost and greater environmental impact than would otherwise have been the case.

To add to the inexcusableness, John Howard is sounding as strongly pro-recycling as I am, yet the Labor Premiers are still refusing to move purely because they are scared of a supposed political backlash. 18 months ago, NSW Minister Frank Sartor openly admitted this, saying “the scientists are right, but the scientists ought to get on talkback radio and tell Sydneysiders there won’t be a mishap”.

Morris Iemma has become Premier since then, but the stance remains the same, as it does with the Labor Premiers in South Australia and Victoria. It’s all the more bizarre given that parts of western Sydney already drink water that’s been reprocessed after being discharged following treatment in sewage works upstream. According to this piece in today’s SMH, recycling would have lower running costs and require two-thirds of the energy of the desalination plant that NSW is still looking at building.

The same article quotes Jeff Angel from the Total Environment Centre, who says “only a lack of political backbone” was stopping recycling. He also notes it would be saving money compared to building extensive dual reticulation systems, as well as desalination. What sort of government insists on options which are more expensive, with larger environmental impact – while always looking for the federal government to help fund the dumb option.

I noted in an earlier post that Queensland’s Peter Beattie had finally decided to proceed with putting purified recycled water back into the water catchment of the dam supplying Brisbane’s drinking water. If he done this two years again when Toowoomba was first proposing indirect potable reuse of purified water, we’d be about ready now for Brisbane’s general water supplies to get a massive top up with water of a higher quality than what we’re already drinking. More listening to John Howard I say! (on this issue anyway)

UPDATE: 12th Feb. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reports a survey finding that 78 per cent of Australians support recylced water being used to supplement drinking supplies. This sounds overly positive to me, but it does show that the extreme tentativeness of state governments to the issue is misplaced. With some genuine leadership on the issue, I believe there is a general level of acceptance amongst most people.

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  1. I’m going to have to agree with you there. I can’t see why Beattie wasted time talking about a referendum, and why other premiers don’t just get to it. Most people seem to be accepting of the need and safety of “recycled water”. Irrational scare campaigners are the only people that are against it.

    And as all water is recycled through a natural process, I think we should call this stuff artifically recycled water.

  2. Must be tempting for a frustrated pollie to tell his constituents they are going to have to eat sh*t. As it were.

    How’s this then: recycled water is as safe as nuclear power. The only risk in each case is human error or wilful attack.

  3. It would be frustrating to have to do that if it was even remotely true. Associating purifying water with generating nuclear power has to be a record for the longest bow in this debate.

  4. The problem selling the idea of recycled water is people have this idea there’s a pipe leading from the sewerage treatment plants that leads to a water filter that leads off to another pipe that ends up at their tap. Then, on the other hand, they also have this view of the dams as a rainwater reservoir where the water’s pristine and no fish, native animals or birds living there poo or wee in it.

    There needs to be an education campaign (Labor state governments sponsoring a 30 minute TV documentary maybe?) which goes into how mucky natural dam water is before it’s processed before being sent to household taps, even in good years, and how waste water is processed before being added to the dams — and that this water is actually a quality improvement on the quality of what’s there.

    What especially needs to be addressed is the water quality incidents in Sydney from a few years ago when the bugs in the water made it unfit for drinking for a week or so. People have long memories for that sort of thing.

    The alternative is to go the more expensive but more politically salable Desalination option, as the Gallop/Carpenter WA state government’s done. In some ways, it’s probably more long-term viable, as you become less reliant on rainfall: you can only recycle water that’s fallen, been collected and used in the first place.

  5. I find it extraordinary that Morris Iemma feels he has the right to criticise John Howard about climate change and how it will make Sydney “boil” and yet he adamantly refuses to even consider drinking recycled water.

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

  6. Interestingly Mike Rann also opposes drinking recycled water. However, Adelaideans are already drinking it and it goes through the standard water treatment process after normal sewage treatment (according to the Advertiser.)

  7. Well, Senator, how about a post on nuclear power, then…

    On the issue at hand, surely this is an example of faux-crisis politics at work. Not to imply that the drought isn’t serious, but simply that the “crisis” was to a fair extent of the Beattie government’s making by not biting the bullet on recycled water a couple of years ago. But, no, it was easier to wait until the situation was “desperate”. And now they get to make it happen without time for a serious debate.

    While the ends might be noble, the means are pretty much the same as those by which the Howard government got many of its more objectionable “anti-terrorism” laws through.

  8. “I seek to make this blog strongly independent and non-partisan as much as possible…”

    But the fact remains, “Democrat voters should understand that their party is no longer neutral, they clearly want a change of government.”

  9. I am really quite pleased with the decision made by Peter and I cannot understand why further states are not immediately following his lead. It may happen after their respective elections is my expectation.

  10. Where you say:

    recycling would have lower running costs and require two-thirds of the energy of the recycling plant

    in the third paragraph, I think the second “recycling” should read “desalination”?

  11. For Victoria, Bracks hasn’t ruled out the idea, he has merely pointed out that there are other alternatives that will do fine for now thank you very much. Also, he has strongly supported third pipes in new housing developments and the use of recycled water for industry.

  12. CU said:

    “I seek to make this blog strongly independent and non-partisan as much as possible…”

    But the fact remains, “Democrat voters should understand that their party is no longer neutral, they clearly want a change of government.”

    You have put this falsehood in your comments before, CU and I have responded to and corrected it. This blog is not here as a vehicle for you to keep pasting John Howard’s dishonest spin (or anyone else’s for that matter). You can take your party partisan poison elsewhere.

    I put your comment up solely so I can be as open as possible in explaining to you that if you continue to persist in deliberate off-topic trolling, after having already been asked to be constructive (or to at least be an adult), I will just delete all your future comments.

  13. For people around Brisbane who are interested in the issue, there’s a forum tonight (Thursday) at 6.30pm at the Southbank TAFE, H Block Auditorium, Cnr Merivale and Tribune Streets, Southbank.

    It’s organised by the Qld Young Democrats. Being typical bloody Democrats, they’ve got a speaker on both sides of the issue, as well as an engineer to explain technical stuff. (cost $10)

    For the really really keen, there’s a 2 day seminar at the University of Wollongong today (Thurs) and Friday on “bringing recycled water into the mainstream”.

  14. Actually I here tell that here Rann wants everyone to be paid a bounty for widdling in the local water supply, just to clean it up a bit.

  15. Public opinion being the fickle beast it is – may turn around and bite Iemma et al on the bum. I heard a report on Sydney talkback radio where apparently nearly all the callers were pro-recycling and derisory of the lack of courage(!) of politicians on the issue.
    This debate though is about competition between two bureaucratic hegemonies – Health and Water Supply. Health Departments have ruled the roost in Australia for the last 50 odd years on this issue. The problem is that bureaucrats don’t like giving up their hegemonies and defend them to death or retirement (and even beyond).
    Public Health Departments throughout Australia have systematically resisted the introduction of treated effluent for the last 50 years and if blame is to be apportioned, we should never forget the lessons of “Yes Minister”.

  16. Another possbile sign of the momentum shift, with the following reported on AAP today:

    Recycled drinking water could be flowing through Canberra taps within three years if the ACT government approves a plan from the territory’s water utility.

    Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said he supported the plan in principle, but there must be a detailed assessment of the project’s feasibility as well as significant engineering and environmental studies. “There is much work which needs to be done, some significant decisions that need to be made, consultations that need to be carried through and, at the end of the day, of course, both myself and my colleagues in the government need to be convinced that this is an appropriate position to take at this stage,” Mr Stanhope told
    ABC Radio today.

    Robert: I might do a post on nuclear energy in a little while – certainly wil do something on energy more generally. I think the point you make about “faux-crisis politics at work” has a fair bit of merit, although one could suggest the federal government is trying to do the same thing with their push for nuclear power (although I’m not suggesting climate change isn’t at a crisis point)

  17. Speaking of Mike Rann:
    At last some sense talked concerning Howard’s ( latest ) “plan” ( another power-grab along the lines of forestry mangement, indusrial relations and public broaadcasting?).
    Rann wants more info!
    Sudden death to be resisted by Howard as to any any of his “plans”, if past history (Iraq for example) is considered. Rann has dared to ask, Oliver Twist -like, how the Great Plan is to be run.
    Will it be along the lines of a beefed-up River Murray commission, with maybe major inputs from CSIRO and other apt scientific sources, or does it become just another vehicle for coalition pork-barrelling in the future, pandering to the usual motley collection of vested interests like Cubbie Station.
    Would it be like the ABC of past times, when a genuinely independent board ran it, or like now after political interference has had only stooges appointed.
    Or that other great asset-management body relatively free from government interference; the Reserve Bank.
    Will the new concept be judged exclusively on whether it does compulsory acquisition of private property, such as the obscene example mentioned above, or wil lit be judged on what it returns to Australians now and in the future?
    Or is the whole the thing just a political stunt to create “wedge” between the states, hemmed in already by Howard-imposed financial strictures while the best of our money goes missing by the $billions?

  18. Paul Walter – I think this is a crucial issue.

    NSW and Qld elect federal governments these days, and the other states merely elect local representatives. So if Howard’s proposed commission is drawn from political circles, it is likely that political imperatives will see board membership dominated by conservatives from NSW and Qld. And it is also likely that conservatives from those states will be favourably biased towards those vested interests that are at least partially responsible for the current problems with water.

    Rann is doing the right thing for SA (and, in my opinion, for the nation) in pushing for an independent commission – imagine how Don Dunstan would have reacted under similar circumstances.

  19. Yes, Feral!
    And did you here Howard squawk today when Rann’s proposal was raised. A load of hot air about his government’s “rights” to take control, and so on.
    Whatever the outcome, the one he dreads is an independent Murray- Darling catchment board- why it’s taken him ten years to finally undermine the same proposed situation in place for so long with SBS and ABC, to the point where these finally fit his purposes.

  20. Paul Walter – I didn’t have my ear to the ground today so I missed it: do you have a link? It’s ironic that Howard – who from memory has always championed the supremacy of State rights over Federal powers – should take such a position. But then he’s in an interesting political position, trying to set traps for Rudd while keeping things too complex to allow Turnbull to shine.

    Regardless of the fascinations of the side-game of politics, I think this issue matters far too much to leave it to politicians like Howard (as opposed to politicians like Bartlett). Water management is a very serious national issue with wide-ranging ramifications: its up there with things like interest rates and the national wage case. Its crucial that the commission has a majority of members with expertise in water management and aquatic ecology, and that vested interests are represented by a minority of members.

    Even though our host has a generously flexible attitude to such matters, I’m conscious that we are somewhat off-topic on a thread about the recalcitrance of State Labour Premiers WRT water recycling. Shall we re-convene on the ‘Rivers of Beef’ thread?

  21. We needed that recycled water yesterday – and that desalinated water today – so that we don’t have to face an empty tap tomorrow.

    When I spoke to my friend recently, it appeared that proposed desalination plants on the Gold Coast and at Byron Bay were still in the planning stage.

    At the warm end of an Ice Age, EVERYTHING dies. In the foreseeable future, we may be wholly reliant on the oceans for water.

  22. Feral thanks again for intelligent response. Firstly citation- can’t remember- exactly probably telly. I draw this conclusion on the basis of a memory of Howard’s little face in petulant mode during the comments (which wouldn’t have happened with radio unless whatever iwas drinking was particulalrly strong)- it was a quick grab in response to Rann. Definitely happened though.
    Secondly your comment that “we” are drifting “off topic” as to state premiers “recalcitrance” regarding water cycling: well, no.
    There IS relevance in examining what influences the decision making processes of the premiers when they faced with a problem like Howard as to conditions determinging their ability to plan and make responsible decisions.
    I’d liken the premier’s predicaments as being akin to a mother trying to empty a pan full of boiling fat into a dripping tub, with a toddler dragging itself away around her feet while her hands are full.

  23. Paul Walter – Jeez, mate! Hallucinations of a petulant Howard? Talk about demon drink!

    Returning to our slightly OT topic (though I take your point re the effects on decision making processes), one of my other objections to the proposed committee structure is that it fails to guarantee sensible membership composition under other political circumstances. Howard could appoint a set of eminently well-qualified people now, but there appears to be little to prevent any of Howard’s successors from subsequently stacking the committee with representatives of water-intensive agriculture and industry.

    Mind you, the big water users should have some representation on the committee – they need to be part of the process. But the process needs to be driven by independent people who have relevant expertise.

  24. Well, if there is a problems I can only say what I think seems reasonable, as with yourself and everyone else here. If there is no cure for the set of problems facing our era as they relate to human perversity, then the world will just have go to hell in a hand cart. We won’t have been the first civilisation to have fallen by the wayside or probably the last.
    I’m past fifty now, and it matters less to me, sooner than many I’ll be food for the worms- and a good thing, some will no doubt say.
    It’s just a shame to be a bystander to the sort of contrariness that we both are able to discern when so much in the way of possibility and the opportunity to experience fromlife the good things we have known, is squandered for so many others..

  25. Paul Walter – you may be the wrong side of 50 (and not far from that myself) but you certainly retain a much younger person’s capacity for playfulness. More later…

  26. Really interesting comments so far…

    But we need strong fearless leaders that can face up to the feds and even the state premiers.

    Call their BS! Guarantee of no privatizations in water and environmental assets!
    Tear to pieces the IR bullsh*t No Choices!
    Strongly criticize their lies taking us to war!
    Destroying Human Rights and the value of an Australian passport!

    My major concern is that the ALP is no hope and can be as big a sellout as the libs. For example, the only state premier agreeing whole heartedly with giving up state rights and water powers is NSW’s Iemma, whose only interest is to stay out of trouble by passing the buck (blaming Carr, the contracts in PPPs, interest rates, etc.)

    If at the same time he hands out this piece of trouble to the feds, they happen to pass back a bit of money from another public-private-partnership, well all the better, wink wink.

    Remember: both Bracks and Iemma were quite happy to join their federal sell-out colleagues trying to sell the Snowy Scheme!

    I actually quite like what SA’s premier Rann has said, since the Reserve bank may indeed be a decent model to use for such cases: still plenty of gov. say in the appointments, but at least a bit more open decision-making that’s at least somewhat open to scrutiny.

    An extra guarantee that no water assets will be sold and that state rights will not be abused should be set in stone.

    Unfortunately, Turnbull has been appointed there for only one reason: to sell the new policies to the business lobby. Of course that also means selling the water resources, setting up a lame and weak but good money making scheme for carbon trading, etc. Macquary Bank execs must be licking their lips..

  27. Carlos, corporate agribusiness got their hooks into the various relevant state govt depts during the 90s. I’m not suggesting outright corruption, but business can exert considerable pressure, and there’s always the mutual back-scratching that goes on between those people who wield power and influence. Sure there are still state-owned assets that could be privatized, but much of the battle for water allocation may already have been lost.

  28. As a Grandmaster “constitutionalist” and author of the INSPECTOR-RIKATI® book on CD series, I can only applaud Premier Rann to stand up for State Sovereign rights. Section 100 of the Constitution in fact gives the Commonwealth of Australia constitutional powers to legislate as to “reasonable use” of allocation of water from rivers for so far it affects navigation!
    Yet, this legislative powers was never properly used and we then Have Mr. John Howard and Mr. Malcolm Turnbull blaming the States where in fact the Commonwealth of Australia all along could have taken certain actions.

    My blog at http://au.blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-ijpxwMQ4dbXm0BMADq1lv8AYHknTV_QH;_ylt=AvQ4_e0hRGErkWnG8OlOjjnkdeJ3 further sets out matters.

    The Reserve Bank of Australia is not an elected body and not accountable to the electors yet sets interest rates for the whole of the country. Why then could we not have an independent body acting on behalf of certain States to deal with the water issue? In my view, Premier M. Rann is a wise man not to vandalise State sovereign rights, and for what? For the 10 billion dollars that in the end is from taxpayers, which should be returned to the States if it is a surplus?
    While I grew up in drinking recycled sewerage water, in Rotterdam, and have no personal issue with it, nevertheless it should be for each State to determine if they desire to recycle or not. The moment the Federal Government were to gain the powers, then no matter what conditions Premier may have set they simply are no longer relevant!
    We do not desire unification and just look at the GST issue how treasurer Peter Costello demanded the states account to him about their spending.
    Keep politics out of the WATER issue and lets work together!

    In any event, States constitutional powers is for the electors to decide if they are handed over or not, not just the Premiers!

    See also http://www.schorel-hlavka.com

  29. Switching on telly this arvo, I found I had blundered into a telecast of Senate deliberations.
    Nonetheless, Senator Fielding was endeavouring, in his somewhat haltering way, to ask what actually turned out to be quite an intelligent question concerning the upshot for Australians, not least in lost taxation revenue, let alone jobs and share ripoffs of Aussie shareholders, of the take over of Qantas by the Gordon Gecko Incredibly Huge Assett-Stripping Corporation of America.
    For this, he was treated to several minutes of patronising abuse from Nick Munchkin. But the point stuck in my mind when the Dorothy Dixer next up lauded the government for its hypocritical parallel ever-vigilance in pounding welfare recipients.
    The next question of relevance, from Senator Bartlett, was as good a question and even better delivered, concerning the thread topic of Howard’s supposed “reforms” as to the Murray. It was along the lines of Mike Rann’s comments as to the integrity of the authority to run the system and was answered in typically imbecile fashion by Senator Abetz.
    Fortunately, Senator Bartlett must have been prepared for the usual Abetz innanity and snookered him on the supplementry, with a short question concerning the objectivity and logic governing the distribution of allocations on the basis of irrigator need against that needs of the river system.
    Lateline’s interview with Mike Rann this evening hopefully gave Sen. Bartlett some late comfort for him as to the righteousness of his pursuit of this seminal issue.
    At least the cat has now been belled.

  30. I find it ironic that the obvious view being proffered as above by Paul and the question by Senator Bartlett that is suspicious of the “public sector” management of the Murray Darling Basin is not acceptable due to the politics of the particular “public sector”: that wants to currently take it over.

    This from staunch defenders of the “public provision” no doubt of everything. Who does one think is going to run the Murray Darling Commission – five appointees of whatever persuasion – no hundreds of hard working undervalued bureaucrats running around on the ground, just as what happens now, but the real defences is that they will answer to one body instead of five. So we have the lovely irony of everything the public service does is hopeless line propagated by many, but we have to have public provision of everything. Disclosure: I’ve been a small time public servant and moved eventually to a v senior Public servant and now something else so I have great sympathy for the much maligned bureaucrat.

    So we have the strident whingeing, simply based on parochialism by the small States, Iemma smart enough to see hey this is a problem I can outsource my grief to someone else, and the usual suspects tilting at windmills.

    The truth is that the proposition makes sense the opposition is simply to the current government, if it was someone else it would be a grand idea – at least say it like it is.

  31. I think you’re making a few stereotype-based assumptions there Ken.

    In general terms, I’d prefer the federal government managing the M-D Basin rather than the states. At worst it will be one set of politically-driven motivations risking buggering it up rather than 4 or 5 as occurs at present.

    My question wasn’t suspicious of the public sector management of it, it was suspicious of government interference in the management of it. This is a much bigger risk in the modern era as the public sector has become far more politicised (under both Labor & Liberal, state and federal). Having some form of structural independence which means the body running it knows they will be able to make decisions without the risk of being politically overridden whenever it gets too politically difficult (or whenever there’s a chance of buying some votes through porkbarreling) means the hard decisions are more likely to be made.

    Broadly speaking, the reason management of the Basin has failed so badly hasn’t been because states are less efficient, it’s because short-term political imperitives have triumphed over long-term interests of the general public.

  32. Ken, I wish you would read my posts. I made crystal clear earlier that I’m interested in seeing a commission free of vested interest interference.
    My point in a previous post you obviously failed to read was that a commission should comprise chiefly objective and knowledgable inputs dawn from organisation such as CSIRO, economists, ecologists including water vegetation land and climate experts, and others of this ilk whose 1) knowledge and 2), distance from political and narrow commmercial concerns would see the basin managed with ITS sustainability the FIRST priority!
    The system is needed for future generations also, and could remain a gold mine, as people like Bartlett and Rann have suggested.
    But you go along with Philistines like Iemma, Howard and the people who run Cubbie station, Ken; the people with a grasping mentality who only smell a quick buck regardless of any consequences for their fellow citizens and future Australians.
    But don’t expect any applause from those who see such prevarications and dissembling.

  33. “So we have the strident whingeing, simply based on parochialism by the small States…”

    ken, it sounds as though you do not fully appreciate the extent to which water management in QLD and NSW impacts on SA. Individual ‘small’ cotton growers on the Darling Downs are each extracting around 1% of SA’s total annual consumption (excluding Roxby Downs) from rivers that ultimately feed into the Murray-Darling. And then there are the much larger corporate operations. Do the sums – SA is being scr*wed ruthlessly.

    The situation has arisen because expert advise has been overridden in favour of other considerations. Personally, I’d be very disappointed if Rann was not lobbying for an independent commission. And I think it speaks volumes that Howard is so vigorously resisting calls for the commission to be led by a panel of independent experts.

    My fear is not that the commission will be managed by public servants, but that it will be managed by politicians.

  34. I thought John Howard’s main aim was to make sure that South Australia got its fair share of the water from the Murray/Darling – instead of locals picnicking on a dry riverbed, only slightly punctuated with small puddles.

    I think the idea is good. But there has to be something funny going on if the NSW Premier is in favour, with the SA Premier objecting. The other way around would make more sense to me.

  35. Coral, the way I see it is that Iemma and Beattie both realise that water allocation and water pricing has to change, and that they would suffer tremendous political damage from the rural lobby if they tried to implement the sorts of changes that really are necessary. Beattie has already been subjected to a strident vilification campaign for introducing water pricing and quotas on irrigators (up until several years ago QLD water was free and barely regulated).

    I suspect much the same motivates Rann: he knows that a Federal commission peopled by political appointees is also going to be subjected to intense pressure to maintain the status quo, or even to provide water on more favourable terms to Eastern state users than is currently the case. Hence the need for a commission based upon a panel of independent experts. They’ll still be subjected to intense lobbying, but they would be less vulnerable to that sort of influence than a panel of political appointees. And at the same time it makes implementing change easier for the politicians, because they can honestly say that their decisions are based on independent high-quality advice.

    Why Howard does not want to avail himself of the advantages of an independent commission is not at all clear.

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