June 8, 2006

Centralised Water Management

Posted in constitution, federalism, politics, water at 8:45 am by thelawthoughts

Although Malcolm Turnbull hosed down suggestions that water management might be taken over by the Commonwealth government, why would this be such a bad idea? Even if limited to major water systems that cross state borders, I can't see why it is a bad thing for a central agency to determine the best way to manage water in this country.

Western US states like Utah, New Mexico and Colorado have terrible problems because they all assert rights over the one river, which of course is diverted upstream by those states through which the river runs first. This is inevitable, regardless of any agreement that might be reached and results in lower states being without enough water.

If states didn't control the distribution of the water in major river systems, to some extent these problems could be reduced. States should not need to fight each other to assert their water rights. If water really is a resource for us all, then its management and oversight should be centralised. 

The problem becomes more difficult when dams and power stations, rather than just rivers, are involved. However, I don't think the states were putting up a fight against privitisation, it was a populist reaction that caused the sale to fall through. The decision to privatise an asset like this would have been passed by the current Federal government if not for that movement, but the states would equally have been happy to see the sale go through.

If the point of having states is to ensure there is adequate discussion and opposition to moves like this from the central government, the question becomes whether the states actually have any power to provide that opposition. VSU, IR laws and terrorism laws have all been pushed through recently by a central government which has had the backing of state governments, even though one might expect the natural positions of said state governments would be opposed to the legislation being passed.