If you were wondering where John Howard’s $10 billion Murray-Darling water policy came from, a Sun-Herald poll yesterday had the answer: water and the environment is the hottest issue with 91% of voters.

Where the hastily cobbled policy did not come from is the best minds of the Federal Government. Brian Toohey was on to the slapdash nature of the headline grabber over the weekend while Laura Tingle mops up the detail in the AFR this morning:

Key federal departments, including Treasury, Finance and Environment, were cut out of the process of formulating the Prime Minister’s $10 billion Murray-Darling water package, triggering concerns about the fiscal impact of the package.

The lack of consultation has also raised questions about the level of detailed work undertaken on the government’s first major election-year policy statement…

The AFR has confirmed that the plan was prepared in extreme secrecy during January by a small group of bureaucrats under the guidance of Mr Howard’s department head, Peter Shergold. Several sources say the departments of Treasury and Finance were not included in the process and others have said the Department of Environment and Water Resources was either excluded or had limited involvement in drawing up the proposals.

No wonder we now have a plethora of suggested summits and policies. Mike Rann’s reticence to climb on board a political stunt now looks like good judgement – maybe we can’t trust politicians driven by opinion polls with something as important as water.

Meanwhile, back at the Sun-Herald poll, aside from showing the political competition now is about shades of green, not different colours, it found the Dilemma government clearly in front on a two-party-preferred basis.

There’s a possibility of independents having the balance of power, but the official opposition still fails to score against the most criticised government in living memory. Someone should tell them there’s an election next month.

Peter Fray

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