Yesterday Crikey covered the background, impact and sudden surge of interest in the water buyback scandal (which has quickly been dubbed “watergate”). After Bernard Keane suggested this was just “business as usual”, some readers picked up the calls for a federal ICAC. Meanwhile, debate about Israel Folau and Rugby Australia rolls on. 

On the water buyback scandal

Quentin Dempster writes: Bernard exonerates the water buyback process as just another example of Australian capitalism and its handmaiden government doing business as usual. This is undoubtedly true but it is an accountability cop-out, particularly as, helpfully, Bernard has listed all those other examples of expediency, vested influence peddling and political slush funding.

Both “sides” of federal politics have engaged in this conduct. That is why Australia needs a National Integrity Commission, or federal ICAC, adequately resourced, with untouchable commissioners and the full suite of coercive powers. Its mere existence would start to change a political and corporate culture which has become conducive to implementation and regulatory failure and, in all likelihood, corruption and criminality beyond breaches of ministerial codes.

How do we know if contentious water buybacks are legal and compliant unless we investigate thoroughly? 

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John Brooker writes: It gives me the shits. Don’t know about everybody else. We definitely need a federal independent anti-corruption commission (i.e. one whose membership is not stacked with party hacks or ideologues faithful to one side of politics or the other).

Alistair Watson writes: Whatever the tawdry detail of buybacks of rights to harvest floodwaters in the northern part of the Murray-Darling Basin, the $80 million involved is a minuscule part of the overall cost of the deeply-flawed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Starting life as drought-induced panic and Australia Day stunt in the death throes of the Howard government in 2007, the plan has gone downhill from there.

The worst part is expenditure of billions of dollars on on-farm and off-farm irrigation infrastructure in the questionable name of water saving, as if the private capital requirements of irrigators should be paid for by taxpayers unlike other farming industries and the rest of small business. Moreover, there is no provision for depreciation accompanying this massive expenditure meaning that many irrigators will be worse off down the track.

Not just the Commonwealth, the states have a shoddy record in water policy. In particular, the Bracks-Brumby-Thwaites exercise of mid-2007 has lumbered Victorians with a more or less unused jumbo-sized desalination plant, a pipeline connecting the Goulburn Valley and Melbourne that is politically off-limits given the veto exercised by irrigators, and an uncompleted space age irrigation system in the Goulburn Valley, costing $2 billion and still counting, that is already a stranded asset because water has traded away from the uncompetitive irrigated dairy industry to downstream horticultural industries.

Australian politicians have always played it by ear in irrigation policy, ignoring abundant local expertise and empirical information available for decades. In hydraulic matters, our politicians lack the defining characteristic of the higher primates; the ability to learn from experience.

On the Israel Folau case

Mark E Smith writes: A root part of the problem and why sport needs to have these rules is the absurd notion of sport stars as role models. I’ve never in my life thought of any sport players as role models or anything vaguely along those lines. I’ve admired one or two as thinkers but really, sport and deep thought tend not to go together. Time to knock this role model nonsense on the head. Who’ll take on the task though?

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