Ramsay Centre curriculum
Prominent Ramsay Centre backer Tony Abbott.

Envoy the silence

You might recall the way that Scott Morrison got around leaving Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott out of his whole pre-election ministerial reshuffle: he appointed them as special envoy for drought and special Indigenous affairs envoy, respectively. 

You might also recall how Barn got very annoyed when it was revealed that he’d done three weeks work and spent $675,000 to produce what looked to the untrained eye like absolutely nothing whatsoever. But, as he explained, he’d actually sent text messages to Morrison with heaps of valuable information therein and no, we couldn’t see them or be given descriptions of the contents because they were… what, on lack-of-water matters? 

Public dollars well spent!

What wasn’t known at the time was whether we’d gotten the same value for money from Abbott’s jaunts around the country. Now journalist Matilda Duncan has discovered that Abbott’s tab is looking comparable: more than $200,000 on staff and $95,000 on travel over a grand total of 16 days during his eight-month gig.

Like ol’ Barn, Tones wasn’t required to write a report, but it is not currently known whether or not he sent a text message. Even an emoji would be something

Train in vain

For decades, politicians of every stripe have enjoyed giving their brief and vocal support to an inland rail line. The political boondoggle that would chuff from Brisbane to Melbourne has enjoyed countless exploratory committees, feasibility studies and election commitments — despite providing nothing more to date than photos of pollies in hi-viz gazing steely-eyed into a brighter future. 

That future never comes because typically, right after the election, said pollie discovers that we already have planes and trucks that travel the route. Everything gets put back in the crate for another three years before the dance begins anew.

However, now the project is definitely happening! Probably. Well, there’s a website. And with air travel facing a COVID-19 crisis and questions of how to get toilet paper to our nation’s hoarders remaining unanswered, the economics might be a little more practical nowadays. That is except for the area running from the Queensland border to Gowrie, just south of Canberra. It’s a bit more underwater than is ideal.

The question whether to run the line through the Condamine floodplains is a bone of contention between the federal government (specifically the National Party) and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (for which the government has oversight). The latter is citing five different surveys which say that the engineering is solid, while the former appears to have a gut feeling that the hydrology is not fair dinkum. They feel it *takes off glasses* in their waters.

You have to admire the Nats’ gumption. They’re opposing a $10 billion rural infrastructure project on the grounds that it might be vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather due to, let’s say, some sort of ongoing changes in the climate. 

Not a drop to drink

Speaking of water, the South Australian government is thinking of doing something exciting in the area: providing drinkable versions of it!

Yes, it’s easy to make jokes about Adelaide water despite the fact that it’s been clean, transparent and not nearly as rust-flavoured as it was in previous decades. But it’s a different story in remote areas of the state.

Much of South Australia — Oodnadatta, for example, which is more than 800km from Adelaide up towards the NT border — only has access to bore water, which is often poisonous to drink and also swiftly rusts out air conditioners and refrigeration units. And that’s a bit of a problem for a place that regularly tops 50 degrees. 

Unfortunately SA Water’s proposal to do something about this has been rejected by the independent regulator, on the grounds that it was only a “partial solution” and would cost about $200 million. The government has promised it will consider challenging the decision, once it gets around to reading the report.

Oodnadatta is one of an astonishing 19 centres in SA which doesn’t have drinkable water, unless folks are willing to pay for bottled stuff. And if you’re wondering why a bunch of remote communities might have spent decades asking for clean, safe drinking water to no avail, then ponder the demographics of South Australia’s far north and oh, of course, racism.

Anyway, swift action seems unlikely. Again. Reports that Premier Steven Marshall suggested they drink cake could not be confirmed at press time.

Peter Fray

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