In January 2007 the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, announced a $10 billion plan to reform rural water management. Most of the effort will focus on the Murray-Darling Basin.
In this book Daniel Connell explains why there is a crisis in the Murray Darling. He highlights the disastrous consequences of a century of fitful, reluctant “co-operation” between the six governments responsible for the region.
Connell argues that a new institutional system is essential – but a Commonwealth takeover is not the best answer. Instead, the Commonwealth government should use its constitutional and financial power to force the States to adopt national policies – and stick to them, whatever the local politics. The States would continue to play a substantial role but the controls would be tighter, the framework more comprehensive.
He also shows how the National Water Initiative, the great blueprint for water reform, has stalled with many of its most important recommendations ignored.
So far the public debate about the future of the Murray Darling Basin has concentrated on new technical projects and increased water trading. Connell argues that unless institutional change is given priority, hundreds of millions of dollars of annual investment will be frittered away – and the crisis will continue.