The words ‘water policy’ somehow don’t set the heart thumping. Nor do the details that underpin the policy — the need for an extra 3-4000 GL of water a year from surface water diversion of 13,700 GL/year across the system is hardly a line to electrify commercial TV news viewers.

But of all the first-tier issues on the national agenda, very few are as critical or imminent as dealing with the problems confronting the Murray-Darling basin in a decisive and fair way.

As Bernard Keane writes in Crikey today, it is now reality time:

“How best to support regional communities that face a substantial reduction in a key industry input over the long term. The costs can no longer be hidden: if we want to support these communities, what’s the most efficient and effective way of doing it? Infrastructure spending might be a part of the solution, but it’s nothing like the whole story. The water debate needs to be broadened into a debate about regional communities and agriculture — both irrigated and non-irrigated.

“But no matter what the outcome, it is deeply unfair to ask regional communities to pay the full cost of fixing this by themselves.”

Compromise, in politics, is often shorthand for capitulation or weakness. In this case what is needed is a grand compromise that addresses an environmental disaster while not slaughtering the people who happen to be sitting in its shadow. It could be that simple.

Peter Fray

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