Story Behind Howard's Murray-Darling Water Legislation
Written by Citizens Electoral Council Research Team
Prime Minister John Howard has presented
legislation to the Parliament, authorising the Federal Government to seize
control of all of the water of the Murray-Darling Basin from the states,
and to put it under a new Federal agency with dictatorial powers. Just
before Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and his Water Minister John Thwaites
suddenly resigned on Friday, July 27, Bracks charged that Howard's actual
intent was to privatise all of the Basin's water. Caught, Howard bellowed
that Bracks was "desperate, stupid, inaccurate and just totally wrong."
It is Howard who is desperate. The global financial system is now crashing
down, and the financial oligarchy which owns Howard is attempting to grab
control over such vital assets as raw materials, food, and water, so as
maintain their political power when their paper, and even their banks
vaporise. Howard's legislation will give his owners control over the
Basin's water for which they will charge whatever they want, and, by
bankrupting most of the farmers there, in Australia's food bowl as this
legislation assuredly will make us dependent on multinational agribusiness
for our food.
Howard lied that he had no secret plan to privatise the Basin's water, but
the plot is hardly a secret: it has been underway since another rabid
privatiser, Prime Minister Paul Keating, initiated it in 1994 through an
agreement of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), and as part of
the same National Competition Policy which led to the other privatisations
in gas, electricity, transport and telecommunications. It picked up steam
when the Murray-Darling Basin Commission started interstate water trading
in 1998, and accelerated rapidly when Howard created his National Water
Initiative (NWI) in 2003, and then the National Water Commission (NWC) in
December 2004, to implement the NWI. Its final phase is the legislation
now before Parliament, which Howard intends to ram through before the
Federal election, and it has the full backing of Kevin Rudd's ALP.
Howard's enraged reply to Bracks notwithstanding, Howard, his Water
Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and all of the key personnel of the
institutions named above have constantly trumpeted their intent to
privatise water, often under such typical NWC euphemisms as the
"principles of consumption-based pricing and full cost recovery". Or, when
NWC Chairman Ken Matthews lectures all over the country, he emphasises
such "Reform Challenges" as, in his words:
The Prime Minister
and Cabinet's own website even features the study, "A Discussion Paper on
the Role of the Private Sector in the Supply of Water and Wastewater
Services". Echoing Bracks, NSW's Minister for Lands and Regional
Development, Tony Kelly, declared on August 2, 2007, "I am just a little
bit worried this is all about making water another commodity so that
Macquarie Bank can be able to buy and sell it and make an absolute
An absolute fortune, indeed: under the 1994 COAG agreements, governments
corporatised their water utilities, which are worth over $70 billion, but
would be sold for far less. The real money would be made in charging
consumers and the few remaining farmers tens of billions more for water.
The Murray-Darling Basin is the breadbasket of Australia, which accounts
for 71% of all of our irrigated crops, and feeds 61% of all Australians.
At stake, therefore, is the security of our national food supply, as well
as the social and economic viability of regional Australia throughout the
Basin. Deregulation of the dairy industry and the initial phases of water
privatisation have already contributed to the collapse of Australia's
farms by 20,000 from an official figure of 150,391 in 1994 to 130,526
today, though in reality there are far fewer, because the Australian
Bureau of Statistics has changed their definition of what is a farm, from
one with $22,000 of agricultural output to only $5,000, inflating the farm
The Privatisation Scam
Privatisation has a simple premise: the less water there is, the more can
be charged for it. Thus, there was and has been no serious Federal
Government attempts to expand water supplies throughout the entire,
horrific drought-ridden period which began coincident with Keating's
initial moves toward water privatisation in 1994-95, right through until
today. Water supplies to farmers have been shrinking throughout that
period, not solely, or perhaps even mainly, due to drought, but to
governmental action or inaction, including, most recently, the cut-off of
water allocations, and the diversion of ever-larger quantities into
The whole process of privatising government assets, including water, was
begun internationally under the Thatcher government in Britain, and was
designed by a London-based think tank, the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS), the
granddaddy of all right-wing, deregulationist, pro-globalist think tanks
internationally. The MPS was set up after World War II by the British
Crown and its chief financier, Harley Drayton, to organise against the
type of strong national government represented by President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt in the U.S., which would not kneel to the financial
oligarchy. Given the Crown's role in privatisation, it is lawful that the
President of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission is the Rt. Hon. Ian
Sinclair, a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council. On behalf of, and
answerable only to the Crown, the Privy Council is the ruling body of
Britain and its still-existing empire ("Commonwealth"). Upon induction,
all members swear sole allegiance to the Crown, and an oath of complete
secrecy regarding any Privy Council business, which includes any financial
business of substance throughout the empire.
All of the chief personnel involved in Howard's "water reforms", from the
Murray-Darling Basin Commission through his National Water commission, are
either hard-core privatisers or radical environmentalists. Notably, Howard
stacked the MDBC and NWC with former officials of the radical right-wing,
Big Business-financed National Farmers Federation (NFF), and with
environmentalist fanatics, notably from the notorious Wentworth Group of
Concerned Scientists [sic]. (As in the global warming scam, Big Business
is in bed with the environmental lobby, which it has heavily financed.)
The Role of the NFF
The single most important figure in determining water allocations in the
Murray-Darling Basin, has been Dr. Wendy Craik, Chief Executive of the
Murray-Darling Basin Commission since 2004, and the Executive Director of
the NFF from 1995-2000.
However, since the MDBC could not force changes in water flows and
allocations, Howard founded the NWC to establish the infrastructure and
policies for such mandatory changes, and two of its seven ruling
Commissioners were top figures in the NFF: Peter Corish, the national
president of the NFF from 2002-2006 when he left to join the NWC, and
longtime Howard hit-man, David Trebeck, the founding Deputy Director of
the NFF and the mastermind of the 1997-98 plot to bust the Maritime Union
of Australia (MUA). NFF personnel also co-wrote the Workplace Relations
Act 1996 as the precursor to the present, anti-human Work Choices Act.
Many think that the NFF'er and MDBC boss Craik is the obvious choice to
head up the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which will dictate what
her Murray-Darling Basin Commission could only suggest.
The NFF itself has endorsed Howard's new legislation, though it is obvious
that it will decimate regional Australia. Their endorsement is not
surprising, since the NFF is known by most farmers as "No Family Farms",
and was founded to help push free trade and deregulation throughout the
economy, as it is now doing with water.
The full story of the NFF is told in the Citizens Electoral Council's 1998
96-page pamphlet, Stop the British Crown Plot to Crush Australia's Unions
we will summarise the essentials here.
When Howard first came to power in March 1996, six members of his
government were closely affiliated with the H.R. Nicholls Society, a
radical deregulationist spin-off from the Crown's Mont Pelerin Society.
These included Howard himself, Defense Minister Ian McLachlan (a former
president of the NFF), Treasurer Peter Costello, Minister for Workplace
Relations Peter Reith, Assistant Treasurer Rod Kemp, and Minister for
Employment David Kemp. The H.R. Nicholls Society was named after the
turn-of-the-century editor of the Hobart Mercury, who crusaded against Mr.
Justice Higgins, the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation
and Arbitration, for his finding in the famous 1907 Sunshine Harvester
case, that labour must be paid a "living wage" sufficient to support a
worker, his wife, and three children.
The H.R. Nicholls Society, in turn, was indistinguishable from the
leadership of the NFF, who had helped found H.R. Nicholls. The NFF itself
had been founded in 1979 by members of the blueblood, Anglophile
Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council, to lobby for free trade and
to bust up the farmer-labour alliance policy of longtime Minister of
Trade, the legendary John "Black Jack" McEwen, based upon a policy of
rapid economic growth generated by a policy of "Protection All Around",
for both agriculture and for manufacturing. The AWGC's Executive Director
was David Trebeck, soon to be the founding Deputy Director of the NFF.
Money poured in from Big Business to finance NFF actions against the
unions, including the "wide combs" dispute in the shearing industry, and
the Mudginberri abattoir conflict.
When then-Transport Minister John Sharp in early 1997 commissioned a
report into "waterfront reform", he awarded an $80,000 contract to the
Canberra-based industrial consultants, ACIL Economics (later known as ACIL
Tasman), whose principals were NFF officials David Trebeck and Paul
Houlihan, who was to be one of three authors of the union-busting
Workplace Relations Act. Without tender, ACIL was then given a further
$600,000 to develop the master plan to smash the MUA, complete with
Dubai-trained strikebreakers from among Australian military veterans,
overseen by Defense Minister and former NFF president Ian McLachlan.
To help crush the MUA, Big Business poured in funds to the NFF's
Australian Farmers Fighting Fund (AFFF), which newspapers reported totaled
$100 million. It was overseen by two well-known farmers: former Coles Myer
chairman Nobby Clark, who was a partner with Rio Tinto in the world's
largest diamond mine, Argyle in WA; and HR Nicholls cofounder Charles
Copeman, who as a CRA executive had sacked his entire unionised workforce
at Robe River in WA. Its trustees included NFF Executive Director Dr.
Wendy Craik, who later headed up the National Competition Council until
Howard tapped her to head the MDBC in 2004.
Besides the NFF'ers, another Howard appointee is Professor Peter Cullen, a
member of the Wentworth Group, which advocates cutting off water supplies
to agriculture and similar genocidal actions. In fact, contrary to
Howard's phony pledge of "no forced reduction in allocations", Cullen
openly calls for precisely that, as in The Australian on January 10, 2007.
Among his other posts, Cullen is a member of the Natural Heritage Trust
Advisory Committee, which specialises in locking up land in perpetuity.
The Wentworth philosophy is most famously expressed by the quack
"scientist" Tim Flannery, who demands that Australia's population be cut
back to six million, and by fellow Wentworth member Prof. Mike Young of
the University of Adelaide, who also calls for compulsory acquisition of
water allotments because "the market is too small", as in his recent
discussion paper. In fact, "buying water on the market should come before
spending on water infrastructure, to allow the market to show which
irrigation systems warrant future investment and which should be
scrapped," Young told Stock & Land on June 12, 2007. "Some systems will
inevitably be abandoned as water flows from them, with associated impact
on rural communities", but, he chortled, "this would be a sign that the
market is working."
Still another Howard appointee to the NWC is Chloe Munro, who oversaw the
electricity sector "reforms" (i.e. wholesale privatisation) under former
Victorian Premier and Mont Pelerin stooge Jeff Kennett.
How the Scam Actually Works
In January 2007, Howard gave merchant banker Malcolm Turnbull the newly
tailor-made Cabinet post of Minister for the Environment and Water
Resources, precisely for the purpose of overseeing the privatisation of
the Murray-Darling under the MDBA. Turnbull is unabashed about his
enthusiasm for water privatisation.
In a speech quoted in The Australian on
July 26, 2007, Turnbull summarised the sweeping powers of the new MDBA:
"It will represent the biggest reform of water management in Australia's
history, and it will see the Murray-Darling Basin on the path of a
sustainable and secure water future. For the first time there will be one
body setting and enforcing a sustainable diversion limit across the basin
that recognises the interaction between surface water and ground water.
There will be a basin-wide approach to establishing a water market and
water pricing. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will set salinity and
water quality objectives and develop and implement a Basin Environmental
Turnbull said nothing about creating new water supplies, because the new
Act is not intended to, but is entirely aimed at privatisation. Indeed,
the NWC's chief scientist Dr. Colin Chartres has repeatedly come out
against creating new water supplies, as by desalination, in favour of
solely relying on "rainfall as the primary source of water", while the
NWC's chairman Ken Matthews has denounced the idea of bringing some of the
huge water supplies in northern Australia south, as "fanciful". "
The intent to privatise is obvious in the Act's objectives. As summarised
by the NWC, its key points are:
1) water access entitlements and planning;
2) water markets and trading;
3) best practice water pricing;
4) integrated management of water for environmental and other public
5) water resource accounting;
6) urban water reform;
7) knowledge and capacity building; and
8) community partnerships and adjustment.
The initial premise from which everything in the new legislation will
flow, is an "audit" of exactly how much water "exists" in the
Murray-Darling Basin. That, of course, can be a highly subjective matter
depending on the criteria of those doing the audit, not only as to
quantity, but also depending on their calculations for salinity, "climate
change", the need for "environmental flows", etc. not to mention whether
or not they intend to create additional supplies. In plain English, they
can say that the water supply is whatever they "find" it to be; determine
whatever supplies should be allocated for whatever uses they want (70%
currently goes for irrigation); and can thus cut off the tap to farmers at
will, causing the price of water to zoom and bankrupting farmers by the
hundreds and thousands. The CSIRO is currently doing an audit for the NWC,
and "lo and behold!" is apparently going to find out that there is much
less water than thought. "If the CSIRO's water calculations emerge as
forecast by Dr. Chartres they may spell disaster for many farmers in
Victoria, South Australia and NSW. Mr. Howard said the audit would
determine the sustainability of irrigation." (The Age, July 26, 2007)
Howard already announced in April this year, that the general allocation
of water for the water year from August to May 2008 will probably be zero.
That could result in staggering losses of as much as $36 billion ($6
billion in direct production and the rest in associated industries)
according to Prof. Wayne Meyer, Professor of Natural Resource Science at
the University of Adelaide (April 20, 2007 The Age), even before
considering the much higher prices for food. There is additionally a
question as to how much Howard himself is responsible for the predicted
zero allocation. Howard held a "Drought Summit" with the state premiers in
November 2006. Ken Pattison of the Pyramid Hill-Boort Water Services
Committee has reported that he told Howard at the time that a disaster was
coming and that he should shut off water to recreational lakes in South
Australia, and hold more back in the Snowy, Dartmouth and Hume reservoirs
or "face a crisis within 24 weeks". Howard did nothing, the result of
which was summarised by Wakool Shire Mayor Ken Trewin:
"hundreds of thousands of megalitres of
stored water has been squandered to SA where it largely evaporated in
Lakes Alexandrina and Albert at the expense of the rest of the
communities upstream." (Herald Sun, April 20, 2007)
Go to Part 2, Bankrupting Agriculture
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