Henry has returned to a city stricken by drought and with draconian water restrictions, at least on households. Henry’s lawns are dead and soon will be dustbowls. The vegies are all dead, or just hanging on. Much loved ornamental plants are keeling over. With this happening throughout the city it is no longer glibly correct to say we city folk are totally immune to the concerns of the bush.

Of course we latte sippers have not yet suffered the full ravages of drought and bushfire, but even that cannot be far away.

When Henry was a student of economics it was explained that state governments existed to provide the basics of a civilised life — free education for all, a good health system, clean water, reliable electricity, uncorrupt and effective coppers, etc, etc.

Last summer us Melburnians tended to blame Brisbane’s problems on the predominance of the famous white shoe brigade — “Beattie is too worried about making people rich from property deals to get the basics right”.

But now it is the government of our own sainted Steve Bracks that has let us down. Yeah, I know the vagaries of climate have something to do with it, but surely a competent government would plan ahead for climatic variability that we saw a hundred years ago, for example.

Last night we participated in discussion over dinner on the water and power debacle, Victorian style. Henry recalled that when he was renovating his house seven or eight years ago, his attempt to install a rainwater tank was illegal. Someone else pointed out that his attempt to install a valve so that water from his roof could be diverted to his swimming pool rather than the stormwater drain had been disallowed by the local council. Someone else pointed out that the draconian constraints on Melbourne’s households had not been matched by any constraints on businesses, many of whom treat water as if it was, well, free, which effectively it is.

A guest did the sums — “The water in a 5,000 litre tank is worth about $35, so why spend $5,000 to install one?” This hard-edged banker said if every Melburnian installed a 5,000 litre tank it would cost some 5 billion dollars, enough for a few dams in areas of high rainfall — eg Waverly Park, where the AFL once built a footy ground (now abandoned) in Melbourne’s wettest suburb!

I digress. The root cause of our problems is our long-standing propensity to treat water as effectively free. Get that fixed, Mr Bracks, and Premier Baillieu will light candles for your soul in Melbourne’s cathedrals.

More reading at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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