Dams are being built, but they are private: Australia Institute



A senior water researcher at the institute said politicians don’t want to talk about private dams because “they do nothing for drought-stricken communities”.
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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A report from The Australia Institute rejects government claims new dams are not being built, saying at least 20 to 30 large private dams have been constructed in the Murray-Darling basin in recent years.

While information on the number of private dams and the cost of their taxpayer subsidy is limited, the report says “it appears that just two of these dams cost taxpayers nearly $30 million”.

“Over $200 million was spent on dam-related projects [in the Murray-Darling Basin] according to official data, although not all of this will have been specifically on dams,” it says,

Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher at the institute, said politicians don’t want to talk about these dams because “they do nothing for drought-stricken communities, the health of the river or struggling farmers”.

“These dams have been built on private land and are for the exclusive use of corporate agribusiness, such as Webster Limited,” she said.

“Politicians are reluctant to talk about why millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent subsidising dams that make the problems of the Murray Darling Basin worse”.

Water Minister David Littleproud has repeatedly berated the states for not building new dams. He said recently that of the 20 dams completed since 2003, 16 were in Tasmania.

“If NSW, Queensland and Victoria don’t start building dams, their water storage capacity will fall by more than 30% by 2030,” he said. “We put $1.3 billion on the table in through the national water infrastructure development fund in 2015 and have still had to drag most states kicking and screaming to build new dams.”

The report says new public dams would require public consultation, including with stakeholders who had environmental and economic concerns.

But private dams involved “minimal public consultation and can be approved and constructed based on environmental assessments commissioned from private consultants by dam proponents”.

The report looked at three dams in detail, on properties in the Murrumbidgee Valley owned by Webster Ltd – Glenmea, Bringagee and Kooba Station. The dams were funded out of the federal government’s $4 billion water efficiency program.

The report argues such dams are not the best way to save water. It points to the department of agriculture and water resources saying new dams can save water where they replace shallower ones (which have more evaporation), or where they collect recycled irrigation water.

“However, none of the three case-study dams in this report save water in this way. They are new dams, not replacing smaller, shallower dams. Water stored behind their approximately eight metre high walls would otherwise be stored in public headwater dams around 100 metres deep.”

These dams are designed to divert normal irrigation water and “supplementary water” – not to simply recycle irrigation water, the report says. Thus “they increase both evaporation and irrigation water use”.

Supplementary water is water that is surplus to consumptive needs. It is important environmentally and to downstream users, historically making up almost all the water flowing from the Murrumbidgee into the Murray, the report says.

“With major dams now targeting this water, the Murrumbidgee could be disconnected from the Murray in most years. This has implications for all NSW Basin water users, who are already grappling with how to meet downstream obligations within the Murray’s constraints and with no water coming down the Darling.”

The report says a Canadian pension fund had just been reported as “swooping” on Webster, “with specific mention of a property with one of these new dams”.

“The new dams that Australian taxpayers helped build appear to be highly valued by international investors,” the report says.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Extinction Rebellion protesters might be annoying. But they have a point



Police arrest a protester after Extinction Rebellion blocked the corner of Margaret and William Streets in Brisbane in August 2019.
Darren England/AAP

Samuel Alexander, University of Melbourne

If you live in a major Australian city, expect your daily routine to be disrupted this week. Protest group Extinction Rebellion is carrying out a week of flash mobs, sit-ins and marches to block traffic and bring more attention to the pressing problems of climate change and biodiversity loss. Many arrests are expected.

Extinction Rebellion protesters say peaceful civil disobedience is an important social and political strategy for achieving a just and sustainable world.

Their protest actions may make us feel uncomfortable, annoyed or worse. But it is important that the general public understands the reasoning that underpins civil disobedience and why this radical strategy is being deployed this week.

Resistance movements are no stranger to law-breaking

The Extinction Rebellion movement has three bold demands of governments. First, government should declare a climate and ecological “emergency”. Second, by 2025 governments should decarbonise the economy and halt biodiversity loss. Third, citizens’ assemblies should be established to work with scientists to inform environmental policy-making.

Many aspects of Extinction Rebellion deserve, and have received, critical analysis, including whether its decarbonisation timeframe is unrealistic and whether their disruption tactics will alienate rather than inspire the general public.

The movement’s civil disobedience strategy is one of its most controversial. Civil disobedience is defined as public, non-violent and conscientious breaches of law which aim to change government policies.




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Law-abiding citizens are right to be concerned about others deliberately breaking the law to advance their social, political or environmental goals. But many of the most significant social and political advances over the past century owe much to social movements that relied on this tactic. Think of Gandhi’s independence movement against British rule in India, the suffragette fight for the right of women to vote and the US civil rights movement.

These precedents raise the question: might future societal advances also demand peaceful acts of civil disobedience?

Images from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, a series of protests in the US state of Alabama against entrenched racist policies. The US civil rights movement deployed civil disobedience strategies.
Wikimedia

Civil disobedience: the case for and against

Imperfect though it is, the basic theory of democracy is that we vote on who represents us in government. In this way, democratic societies are said to have created the institutions and processes needed for their own peaceful improvement.

So critics of civil disobedience argue that people shouldn’t just break the law because they disagree with it. They say if you do not like a policy or law, you are free to campaign for change, including for the election of a new government.

But proponents of civil disobedience argue that democracy is flawed and in some cases, non-violent breaches of law can be justified.

First, they say laws and policies can be shaped undemocratically by powerful mass media, corporate lobby groups, or billionaires. Proponents say citizens do not always owe political allegiance to laws and policies that are not produced through fair, robust, and representative democratic processes.




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Second, many political and legal theorists say just because something is enshrined in law, that does not mean it is necessarily just. This was the view advanced by American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, which inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Throughout history, many laws and policies produced in democracies were grossly unjust. These include laws which institutionalised slavery, legally entrenched racial segregation, criminalised homosexuality or particular religious practices, or prohibited women and people of colour from voting.

When a law or policy is clearly unfair, a case can be made that there is a place for civil disobedience. We must accept that even laws produced in a democracy get it wrong sometimes.

An Extinction Rebellion protest in Melbourne on Monday, October 7, 2019.
James Ross/AAP

Will Extinction Rebellion fall on the right side of history?

The Extinction Rebellion is promoting civil disobedience because it says across the world, governments have failed to respond adequately to the climate crisis and the steep decline in wildlife populations. It argues that the political system underpinning this failure must be resisted, even if this causes inconvenience to the general public.

The movement’s supporters include 250 Australian academics who signed an open letter saying they feel a “moral duty” to rebel and “defend life itself”.

It could be argued that the activists should wait until governments take action. But judging by recent history – including a lack of substantial progress at last month’s UN climate summit – an adequate, timely global response to the climate crisis seems highly unlikely. In this case, waiting for government action means being complicit in an unjust system.




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Some people will inevitably dismiss Extinction Rebellion protesters as troublemakers and criminals. But their actions must be assessed against the big picture. The world’s best climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that if global warming is not kept below the 1.5℃ limit, Earth’s natural and human systems will suffer dire consequences. The legitimacy of Extinction Rebellion’s disobedience must be weighed against the wrongs that triggered it.

As Extinction Rebellion causes chaos in our cities, we must avoid superficial, kneejerk reactions. Whatever your views on civil disobedience, the climate emergency would be far less serious if governments had taken action decades ago. Further inaction will only lead to more numerous and active social movements, driven by the same mixture of love and rage that provoked Extinction Rebellion.The Conversation

Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.