The politics of water continues its murky course in Queensland. Yesterday’s referendum in Toowoomba – a vote imposed as a condition of Commonwealth funding after the local member Ian Macfarlane had a spot of the electoral panics – went down by a wide margin.

The No campaign is being widely reported as scaremongering tosh, with groups such as “Citizens against drinking sewage” playing up all sorts of urban myths and emotive lines. It’s also been alleged that No campaigners were associated with spreading defamatory and bizarre rumours. There was a whispering campaign about Mayor Di Thorley’s sexuality and business plans. And apparently everyone knows that drinking recycled water makes blokes grow boobs and shrinks their fishing tackle.

“Respected businessman” Clive Berghofer ran around ranting and raving about “Poowoomba”. Scares about real estate values were also thrown into the mix. Berghofer also gave a none too subtle hint that he might be thinking about flogging off one of his shopping centres for $59 million.

The hard reality for the No campaign is that Toowoomba still faces a water crisis, and citizens of the erstwhile Garden City woke up this morning with no more options for ensuring their water supply. The other hard reality is that the remaining options are much more expensive, and the No campaigners, like everyone else, will be paying more than they would have been had the recycling plans gone ahead.

Peter Beattie has responded to the vote by quashing earlier speculation that he might fight an early election on the water issue. But Premier Pete promises a plebiscite will be held in conjunction with the next Queensland local government elections in March 2008. He’s hopeful that voters will be educated on the issues in the ensuing period.

If NIMBY types and National Party pollies keep running with the same tactics, he might need all his much vaunted political skills to ensure this happens.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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