18/05/2007 - 15:57

It's hard to talk with a dry throat in View from the Arch

18/05/2007 - 15:57

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It's not often that a government policy wins the approval of both the Greens (WA) and the Western Australian Farmers Federation, but the State Government's decision to construct a second desalination plant achieved it this week.

It's hard to talk with a dry throat in View from the Arch

It's not often that a government policy wins the approval of both the Greens (WA) and the Western Australian Farmers Federation, but the State Government's decision to construct a second desalination plant instead of tapping the South West's Yarragadee aquifer, achieved it this week.

The desalination plant, to be located at Binningup, 30 km north of Bunbury, will cost $640 million to build and a further $315 million to be integrated into the state's water supply system.

The plant will supply 45 gigalitres of water each year, the same output at the $387 million Kwinana desalination plant which was officially opened earlier this year, with water expected to be distributed to metropolitan Perth, the Mid West and the Goldfields through the Kalgoorlie pipeline.

Premier Alan Carpenter told reporters that he and the Cabinet had decided against the Yaragadee proposal as the site was still reliant on rainfall, which could in turn be influenced by climate change.

The announcement won faint praise from Kimberley pipeline proponent and Opposition Leader Paul Omodei, who said Mr Carpenter had bowed to pressure from the community, environmental groups and the Liberal Party by announcing another desalination plant instead of the Yarragadee proposal.

"The building of a second desalination plant is a less energy efficient and far more costly option, but at least it is a better option than the Yarragadee."

Shadow Environment Minister Dr Steve Thomas said the South West community would be pleased with the Government's decision, and would closely watch the development of the new desalination plant to ensure environmental concerns were covered.

The decision to avoid use of the Yarragadee also won the approval of vocal Legislative Councillor and Greens (WA) member Paul Llwellyn, who used the opportunity to call for greater water and energy efficiency in future.

"This decision will give us just 10 years relief from our rapidly growing water demand before we need to find yet another 45GL," he said.

And WAFarmers Water Resources spokesperson Steve Dilley said the outcome was a major victory for commonsense.

"The Premier's decision has gone some way to renewing my faith in the government's preparedness to listen to public opinion," he said.

WA water spending

While the government was receiving applause for this plan, a national report was released showing Western Australia was spending more on improving water supplies, but charging for it too.

A National Water Commission report found major water utilities across the nation have been dropping their spending on infrastructure, with Perth and Melbourne the only exceptions.

The ABC quoted Ross Young from the Water Services Association of Australia, who said that while Western Australia led the way in adapting to a changing climate, its customers were also paying the most for water.

"I think the higher water bill in Perth probably reflects the investment probably that is going on there to cope with climate change," he said.

"Plus you have some relatively expensive sources of water like groundwater which requires significant pumping, which probably contribute to the higher bills."

Water flows from Canberra...

The report angered Prime Minister John Howard, who said the pocketing of dividends by state water utilities was scandalous.

"This country is dying of thirst and these water utilities - instead of investing their revenue in infrastructure, in new pipes and fixing the leaking ones - they're paying it by way of a tax to their state governments," he told Macquarie Radio.

"The state water utilities are pocketing their revenue, not because utilities want to do that, but they're told by their state governments and the state governments use it for something unrelated to water."

But information dries up

But when it came to federal government policy, the government has been significantly more circumspect.

The West Australian and Seven Network made joint requests to the Department of Finance and Department of Environment and Water Resources, seeking the release of a series of documents detailing the preparation of the Commonwealth's $10 billion national water plan.

The 10 year scheme to save the drought devastated Murray-Darling Basin is the centrepiece of the Howard government's water strategy.

Both applications were rejected, with Finance saying it was not in the public interest to do so, and Environment saying the release of such information could damage relations between the Commonwealth and state governments.

Unfortunately for the Finance department, West Australian journalists learned that one of the documents, a draft costing spreadsheet, was already freely available on the Prime Minister's website.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd said information which has been released showed the federal Treasury and Finance Department had not been consulted.

"Up until now, we the opposition, were giving Mr Howard the benefit of the doubt and offered him as much bipartisan support as possible on his $10 billion Murray-Darling initiative," Mr Rudd told reporters.

"But when you discover ... everyone with a solid policy role when it comes to such a major initiative in this, haven't been properly consulted, I think we have a problem on our hands."

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused Labor of politicising the water debate.

"We're trying to get water right and secure for the future and there you have the Labor Party trying to undermine this historic plan," Mr Turnbull told ABC Radio yesterday.

He refused to answer questions on whether the plan should be open to public scrutiny, saying the fine detail is being negotiated with state governments.

Rudd: Not Mother Teresa

Earlier that week, a joint initiative of some of Australia's most prominent news organisations launched the "Australia's right to know campaign," identifying an audit of state and federal legislation as their first priority.

News Ltd reported that the audit will target anti-terrorism legislation, sedition laws, suppression orders and Freedom of Information.
Kevin Rudd came out in support of the group, saying limits on Freedom of Information requests go too far.

"I'm acutely conscious of the fact that I used to work for a state government which tightened its FOI operating procedures in the early- to mid-1990s, so I'm not pretending to be Mother Theresa on this question," Mr Rudd told reporters.

"But having observed it over a 15-year period, now, I believe there is an emerging abuse of conclusive certificates by the federal Government and we will need to, in the months ahead, review carefully how that can be reformed.

"Secondly, when it comes to whistleblowers' protection legislation, this also needs to be reviewed in the light of recent cases."

Just one day later, Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock promised to introduce Federal laws protecting journalists' sources before this year's election.

Mr Ruddock said the Commonwealth intended to press ahead with shield laws regardless of whether state governments overcame objections to the commonwealth's scheme.

"We will shortly introduce legislation to protect journalists when they are dealing with confidential sources, within certain limits," he said.

Mr Ruddock's spokesman told The Australian the Government still hoped the states would introduce similar shield laws, but the commonwealth would legislate unilaterally if necessary.

"I can promise that the legislation will be introduced. Whether it passes before the election is another matter," the spokesman said.

State of Western Australia vs The West Australian

However, WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty told reporters on Wednesday he would be reluctant to pass the laws because he did not believe one media outlet, The West Australian newspaper, deserved the protection.

"My view is that the issue is one of ethics and honesty, and where you have a monopoly media outlet behaving in a way that is neither honest nor ethical then I have a difficulty then extending a protection to them. I would happily support shield laws for organisations that display respect," he told reporters - including representatives of The West Australian.

The ABC reported that Premier Alan Carpenter supported Mr McGinty's position on good standards in the profession, condemning the newspaper's editor, Paul Armstrong, in parliament on Thursday.

"Paul Armstrong is an immature, dishonest, unethical person who should not be in that position," he said.

"He is an embarrassment to them, he's an embarrassment to the newspaper.

"He's an embarrassment to the state of Western Australia, that's the fact. He's not the person for the job."

Perth Lord Mayor Peter Nattrass also threw his support behind Mr McGinty, saying such laws were a privilege that shyould come only with responsible, balanced journalism - something the 'West' had a record of failing in.

For his part, Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said the issue only highlighted the bullying tactics of a Government unable to stomach criticism.

Bits and Pieces


  • Around 300 Members of the Special Air Service Regiment have set off for operations in Afghanistan, being farewelled today by Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and opposition defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon in a function held at Perth's Campbell Barracks.
  • An episode of Channel Nine drama McLeod's Daughters, in which a character is fired and then offered an Australian Workplace Agreement for less pay has excited ALP industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard, who said it was an accurate depiction of AWAs in action, and angered Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey, who said he would have asked the Workplace Authority to swoop on Phil's garage if the TV bad guy was a real employer.
  • Meanwhile, the ABC's docu-drama Bastard Boys, a depiction of the 1998 waterfront industrial dispute in Melbourne, was described as "One of the most lopsided pieces of political propaganda I've seen on the national broadcaster in years," by Prime Minister John Howard. "It completely ignored the fact that the Australian waterfront was notoriously inefficient and all of the collaborative attempts that had been made over the years to change that had failed," he said.
  • The term "Work Choices" has been officially banished from the vocabulary of staff employed to provide the public with information about the government's controversial workplace laws, with documents leaked to AAP revealing staff on a Department of Workplace Relations information line have been told to stop using the term "Work Choices." The department's website now refers to the "Work Choices Infoline" as the "Workplace Infoline" and posters tell call centre staff "all references to Work Choices should now be changed to workplace relations".
  • Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan said an announcement on the Government's Broadband Connect program, worth around $600 million, would be announced some time after June, and would be made available right around Australia.
  • And both Mr Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd were left to thumb through their appointment books this week when both refused, and then agreed to consider, meeting the Dalai Lama when he visits Australia next month.

 

The Final Word

In a week where former state Liberal Leader Colin Barnett said the WA Labor Party was "rotten" and "not fit to govern", and was in turn labelled a "pretentious prat" by Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan, the final word goes to Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews.

Mr Andrews hit the airwaves this morning to talk about plans for the introduction of a Citizenship Test, to be taken by prospective citizens after living in Australia for four years.

In an earlier interview with Melbourne's Herald Sun, he was asked about the tests, and their relationship with those used by the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

"Ours won't be the same as any of those. It will be uniquely Australian," Mr Andrews said.

Arch certainly hopes so!

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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