“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





03 July 2015


The mouth of the River Murray at the Coorong and the Southern Ocean in the 1990s ... hardly flowing at all after draining over a million square kilometres of south-eastern Australia ... and irrigating quite a lot of it, too ... this basin is just a part of the giant Australian appellation recognised internationally as South-Eastern Australia ... it's basically all the land south-east of a straight line from Ceduna SA to Rockhampton Qld

Big Rivers barely rolling but
$11 billion Basin spend makes 
no leeway for climate change
this was first published on InDaily 23/06/2015

It was February 1996 when John Howard delivered the election campaign speech that led to the shredding of the government of Paul Keating. The electorate seemed to like Honest John's promise to flog one third of Telstra to develop the natural heritage trust of Australia, put $1 billion in its bank for starters then spend $16 million beginning the rehabilitation of the Murray-Darling Basin.

This was the beginning of an extraordinary 20 year process during which the Basin's importance as a producer of Australia's cheapest wine could, or should have been forensically examined, particularly its use of water, how long that water will last and what that water realistically should cost, not to mention the number of fair dinkum jobs and income each litre provided its community. A lot of people depend on that river.

Or, for that matter, the many billions of community health costs incurred when the resultant wine is irresponsibly consumed and stuff goes twisty. We're talking about a bit under half of the country's entire wine production.

The millions of hours and many billions of dollars squandered in that twenty years is a devastating indictment of our communal dishonesty.

The Murray at Echuca

Since I mentioned this here last week, South Australian treasurer Tom Koutsantonis delivered the state budget. This budget abolished South Australia's Save the River Murray levy.

While Premier Jay Weatherill explained the levy had been designed to 'lead the charge to save the River Murray' he guaranteed 'The specific measures funded by the Save the River Murray levy will continue to be delivered but we now have a national plan to support and improve the health of the River.'

Although you don't hear much about it on Master Chef, some of us in the drinks business regard potable water as a reasonably significant gastronomic item. Especially in a community like ours, languishing here at the arse end of the food and wine basin the world's driest nation depends upon.

Perhaps in its budgetary insinuation that the River's fixed, the State Labor government was buoyed by the fact that this, the driest state in the driest continent, now has a desalination plant we can turn on whenever the River dries up.

 Mildura drought 1930s

Whatever the fact, this state, so proud of its forerunning achievements in premium food and wine, seems by omission to think it may not have to return to dredging the mouth of the country's biggest river in order to keep it looking a bit like a viable stream.

There's a special information session tonight, just by the way, at the Lakes Hub in Meningie where folks can ask about the next dredging program.

At the retail end, in the ethanol sector the wheels of commerce are turning fluently. Being a mob basically designed to support the standard working family and its pensioners, this state's Labor lawmakers must be delighted that this morning in BWS their electors can purchase full-strength bladder pack wine from Berri Estates on our end of the River at the rate of $2.20 per litre.

Floods of very cheap alcohol are often followed by prohibition movements

One part of that incredibly expensive twenty year discussion of the matter of the dying River was the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which came into effect in 2012. Part of its duty was to ensure that no longer would we allocate too much precious water to agricultural purposes. Like the extravagent irrigation of wine grapes worth such a pittance to producers that their growers lose more money every year.

Communities collapse. People get sick, drunk and violent. Entire towns need help.

Murray at Renmark, 1915 ... all these old photographs were taken before the weirs, locks and barrages were installed ... these may slow the water down, but they don't make it rain
But yesterday on Radio National's Breakfast program, it was revealed that in its discussion of future water allocations, this lofty document does nothing to address climate change. A group of cranky scientists maintain that the $11 billion Murray Darling Basin Plan 'doesn't currently take into account the lower average rainfall patterns and more frequent and severe droughts predicted by climate models.'

On one hand we have Dr Rhondda Dickson, Murray-Darling Basin Authority CEO assuring us that her cutting the irrigation volumes by twenty per cent is 'going to enable the environments and also those communities who depend on those environments to be more resilient to future climate change.'

On the other hand sits the seething scientists. Professor Quentin Grafton, director of the Centre for Water Economics and Environment at the ANU, told Breakfast 'There's no way climate change has been accounted for in the current basin plan. So clearly we have got a problem here in terms of understanding facts.'

Digging irrigation channels in the Murray Mallee

The results of future climate change have been 'locked out' of the plan, Mike Young, professor of water and environmental policy at the University of Adelaide agreed. 'It assumes there's no climate change and none could ever happen ...

'The advent of adverse climate change on the amount of water that's available is very savage. A 10 per cent reduction in rainfall can result in as much as a 60 or 70 per cent reduction in the amount of water that's available for use ... It’s a warning bell; the single biggest problem in Australia's main food bowl is far from fixed.'

Heavy-duty scientists are lining up to complain.

John Williams, Wentworth Group scientist, asserts that while the Basin is responsible for 70 per cent of Australia’s irrigation, some calculations forecast  as much as 34 per cent less rainfall and more evaporation by 2030.

Right through the scientific community, there's a widespread sense of disbelief that the MDBA had made it quite clear that it did not incorporate climate change into its hydrologic modelling.

And it's not just scientists who are frustrated by the current regime's paranoid  hatred of merely the term 'climate change.'

Later yesterday we had Admiral Chris Barrie (ret.), former head of none other than the Australian Defence Forces, launching the Centre for Policy Development's new report, The Longest Conflict: Australia's Climate Security Challenge. 

This report is withering in its accusations that Australia's Defence Force is not prepared 'for climatic events like extreme heat, rising sea levels and more frequent natural disasters.

'Most of the people I work with in Defence actually get this; they understand about climate change, and they're very enthusiastic to get to grips with it,' Barrie said.

'The problem we've got is at the top level of politics in this country it seems to be a toxic term. That's bad news and they know it's rubbish so let's get real about it and start having a decent conversation.'

The beaches may be too well submerged for our landing craft; the uniforms may be too hot for the troops to wear; tanks and ships and choppers may be impossible to endure; extremes of climate and weather may well cut off most of the usual food supply; when the petroleum expires armies and navies and air forces might discover they're not quite set up to depend on wind and solar power ... goddam it, even our biggest river might once again cease to flow into the sea, but in this great desert country of ours we'll always be able to sit down to a lovely glass of bladder pack at $2.20 per litre.

That's obviously cheap enough to win our votes.

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