Opening the tap on water reform

Opening the tap on water reform


Opinion
Aaron Stonehouse MLC.

Aaron Stonehouse MLC.

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Water is central to the work of farmers and to food production.

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WATER is not something that gets most people fired up - you turn on the tap and out it comes.

And if that doesn't work, you call a plumber.

That's unfortunate, because water is, despite its somewhat bland nature, key to so much of what we do and what we enjoy in life.

It's central to the work of farmers and to food production.

All of the fruit and veg that you see stacked in your local supermarket are there because a farmer had enough water to irrigate their crop.

The same rule applies to all of that lovely green space that you see in the suburbs.

The park in which you kick around a ball, is only as lush and green as it is because your local council had access to sufficient bore water to keep it crisp through the summer months.

That's why it's important to ask ourselves if the government is managing water resources correctly and - in the opinion of this crossbencher - no, I believe they are not.

People who live near Wanneroo, in Perth's north, will have already seen the signs.

The residents there have had their water licence allocations cut by 10 per cent.

The government would like you to think that the solution in Wanneroo is a smaller, more delayed cut than was proposed under former WA premier Colin Barnett, but the people on the ground disagree.

Further north in the Fitzroy Crossing area, you have graziers and farmers sitting atop massive aquifers, access to even 5pc of which would allow them to substantially increase the feed they grow and thus bring their cattle to market at a lower cost.

They are drowning in government green tape, however.

Just last month, the government introduced water licence fees for the mining industry.

While the mining industry may be able to absorb that cost, other industries, such as vineyards, may not.

They're already fearful that they're next in the government's crosshairs.

Fortunately, the government seems to have recognised that something needs to be done and it has, to its credit, instigated what is being billed as a once-in-a-generation reform of water laws.

But that reform will only be successful if they learn from best practice and make key changes.

The government needs to embrace the peer-to-peer revolution and allow individuals to trade water allocations directly.

At the moment, you can trade water in WA, but you have to get ministerial approval and there is no mechanism which allows you to hold or buy perpetual entitlements.

As a State, we also need to get over the phobia of building new infrastructure, be it dams and reservoirs or desalination plants.

About 71pc of the earth's surface is covered in water, so if the small percentages that we gain from rainfall and other sources such as aquifers aren't sufficient, we shouldn't baulk at converting salt water to meet our needs.

Let's stop telling farmers how important it is that they grow 'x' or 'y' and just let them get on with growing what the market, not the government, is crying out for.

You can't stop the flow of water.

It is one of the most powerful forces in nature, capable of cutting through rock and cutting through governments alike.

If the government doesn't want to find itself with one thumb perpetually in the dyke, it will acknowledge that fact sooner rather than later and embrace a comprehensive water plan which will make WA the envy of the Commonwealth.

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