There is one key political factor about the land through which the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin flow. It is basically solid Coalition territory.

That gives Labor an easy and politically advantageous response to the Prime Ministerial water initiative. Let the Coalition worry about water for the irrigators. Kevin Rudd can concentrate on providing water for people in the cities and towns where this year’s election will be won or lost.

A promise by Rudd that a government he leads will ensure people can once again water their lawns will beat John Howard’s concerns about deciding which farmers can have how much water to put on their crops.

What is needed, Federal Labor can argue without upsetting its State colleagues, is assistance for the states to invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure the cities never again run short. Getting rid of urban water restrictions should be the first priority.

An environmental concern for healthy rivers can be tossed in for good measure. By all means support governments, State and Federal, buying back water rights from the irrigators so the Murray starts flowing again. Some city voters might like to have their self interest disguised behind some rhetoric about a concern for nature but do not forget where the votes are.

The South Australian Premier Mike Rann showed the way this morning with his reaction to John Howard’s plan.

“If the Federal Government takes over, moves in, uses some sort of scheme to take over our rivers”, Rann argued on ABC radio, “that means that the Government is politically beholden to the cotton industry and the rice industry, and the upstream irrigators would be in control of water.”

Peter Fray

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