There’s a feeling in the bush that once again country people are being ignored by the major political parties when it comes to election handouts. The big rural weekly The Land newspaper even resorted to counting the number of times the words farmer (once), drought (not once) and rural (twice) were uttered in the Great Debate.
There are continuing calls from thinking voters for major infrastructure projects to be announced to demonstrate which party has the grander vision. Projects like a tunnel under the Blue Mountains – a sort of escape route from Stalag Sydney for our city cousins – would do enormous economic good for the nation, or so say the protagonists.
In fact most of the major infrastructure works that we apparently lack would be located, by necessity, in the bush. Dams, power plants (nuclear or clean coal), wind farms and water pipelines, by their very definition are non-urban pursuits. However, both parties seem to be involved in a race to mediocrity when it comes to “big thinking” policies to develop our rural areas.
Of course there’s the $10 billion water plan that’s designed to fix the Murray Darling Basin and protect the nation’s food source. That legislation was swept through parliament in August with bipartisan support. It will come as no surprise then that farmers who are complaining about some of the detail – like losing 29 percent of their irrigation water – are getting no satisfaction from either side of politics. Victims of political metooism.
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Whether or not farmers lose their water is arguable. The water plan is designed to save water by improving on farm irrigation efficiency and modernising systems that deliver water to the farms. What happens to the saved water? A condition of the on farm efficiency program worth $1.6 billion is that each project must save at least 25 megalitres of a farmer’s water entitlement (equivalent to 25 Olympic swimming pools) which will be returned permanently to benefit the environmental health of the Murray and Darling rivers.
Money for the first of these irrigation projects has started flowing and won’t stop until nearly $6 billion in public funding dries up.
Unfortunately, government policy can’t make it rain and all this saved water is actually only on (blotting) paper, at least until the wet stuff turns up again. If he wins the election, maybe Kevin Rudd can officially end the drought just like Bob Hawke did back in the early 80s when he came to power. It’s almost worth serious consideration for a farmer.