Gary Nairn, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister in charge of water, did not achieve the national prominence of a Malcolm Turnbull but he has shown some skill in using the issue to the advantage of the Coalition in his own electorate of Eden Monaro.

Nairn, now Special Minister of State, was involved before his promotion in long running negotiations between the Federal and ACT governments on the ownership of the Googong dam and its water just outside of the national capital.

Control of the dam was originally ceded to the Commonwealth to provide an adequate supply to Canberra but the transfer to the local ACT government was not completed at the time self-government was imposed.

From memory there was some wrangling about liability in the event of the dam collapsing but it was always assumed that control would eventually pass to the administration which actually used it.

Over the border in Queanbeyan, water is provided by the grace and favour of the ACT electricity and water authority and, according to Nairn, this has stopped the expansion of the neighbour Canberrans describe as Struggletown, which he represents in the Parliament.

His answer, suggested to the PM, was for the Commonwealth to retain control of the Googong dam so a water policy could be developed for the whole region around it and not just for Canberra.

This, naturally enough, has enraged ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope, who wonders why he was not consulted before such an arbitrary decision was made.

And the more Mr Stanhope protests, the happier Mr Nairn becomes as his voters of Queanbeyan delight in the role reversal as the other side of the border struggles for its water.

Peter Fray

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