Monday, July 13, 2009

Get off your high horse, John Brumby

My political side has got the better of me again, and I'm shamelessly turning this blog entry into a very early electoral forum. I’m so incensed with the behaviour of John Brumby, Victoria’s state premier, that I’m using this entry to urge everyone in the state to vote him out at the next election, in November 2010.

The man has simply got to go.

There is something about state premiers and ministers in this country that is on the nose. After having been in power for a while, it goes to their heads and they forget that they are the servants of the people, not their masters.

Of course this happens at the federal level, with John Howard’s WorkChoices debacle and the embarrassing loss of his Bennelong electorate both being textbook examples. But in Canberra it happens under a huge array of scrutinising eyes and pens. With journalism almost guttered in this country, there are simply not the media resources to hold state politicians to account (unless you live in NSW, because that’s where the ABC news shown on the ABC HD channel comes from!).

I am ashamed to admit that part of my passion for getting rid of Brumby is not his policies (although I hate them), but the mean, triumphant glint in his eye when he announces the next disastrous decision that will destroy an area of unspoilt beauty, gutter a local community, entrench the power of a corrupt multinational and lead to decades-long environmental degradation.

The man’s hooked on power. It’s become a drug to him.

And he’s slowly killing the city and state that I love.

In this blog entry I’m going to summarise what I consider one of the main sins of the Brumby government, and briefly list the rest.

Plumbing the depths: proposed desalination plant
It's common knowledge now that Victoria is running out of water. As I write, our dams are only 26.8 per cent full. Something clearly needs to be done. The government has developed a Water Plan to secure the state's water supply, but the main option it has chosen to redress the problem -- a desalination plant -- is expensive and environmentally destructive, and has far higher emissions than the alternatives.

These alternatives include dual flush cisterns, government-subsidised rainwater tanks, storm water capture, and recycling of non-potable water (click here for more information about them). But it also needs to be said that part of the problem is some Melburnians' excessive use of water. On 27 February, for example, Melburnians were still using an average of 186 litres per person per day, higher than the government's voluntary target of 155 litres per day. Any new infrastructure will increase the cost of water, which means that those using little water are effectively paying for those who squander it.

The plant the state government is planning to build will be a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant at Wonthaggi on the Bass Coast. This will take the form of a public–private partnership and will be responsible for one-third of the state’s water supply. If built, the proposed desalination plant will be the second-largest in the world.

According to Watershed Victoria, a group that opposes the government’s Water Plan and especially the plant, desalination is ‘expensive, provides few long-term jobs, has huge climate implications and creates [an] effluent outfall to the marine environment’.

If the plant operates at full capacity, its carbon emissions will comprise up to 2% of Victoria’s electricity use. The government has promised to offset these emissions but, as Watershed asserts, this will mean that ‘a huge chunk of Victoria’s renewable energy will just be covering new (and excessive) emissions’, so that renewable energy won’t be available to reduce existing carbon emissions. Moreover, the plant will be churning out ‘8000 litres of toxic effluent per second … just 1 km off the now pristine Williamson’s Beach’.

But there will be worse consequences if the plant goes ahead. As Watershed warns, there will be absolutely no incentive to develop ‘sustainable water policy’ over the crucial next few decades. The corporate body running the plant will only be interested in profit. Not only will it have no interest in other infrastructure to harvest and recycle existing water, but it could work against these things happening. In effect, it will be dictating Victoria’s water policy for decades to come!

It’s important to understand just how anti-democratic that is. It’s a similar principle to building a private prison and expecting the company running it to be interested in rehabilitation of prisoners, when such a policy would ultimately go against its business interests. The incentive will be to produce water, and charge the government for it, whether or not the water is needed. As recently as 11 July, The Age reported that the Brumby Government had already instructed Melbourne’s water officials to ‘run the new desalination plant at full capacity, irrespective of rainfall’.

This brings us to the issue of cost. Kenneth Davidson, writing in The Age, has explained his belief that the government’s stake in such a private public partnership would be more expensive than if it bore all the cost of a significant alternative – water recycling! Indeed, the government won’t release figures showing the contrary, which suggests the possibility that policy is not being decided on the basis of value for money for taxpayers, but, put simply, government corruption.

Any private ownership of such a plant spells disaster for water-saving and other methods of capture. However, the two companies bidding to build the plant – Veolia (Connex, who recently lost the contract to run Melbourne’s railways) and Degremont/Suez – seem particularly sinister. Both these bidders have extremely disturbing corporate records, as Davidson has warned.

I urge Victorian readers to write to Brumby and your local state politicians about the proposed desalination plant. The deal is yet to be signed, and once the corrupt multinationals that will run this carbon-creating monster are in, they’re in for decades.

Click here for more information about Watershed Victoria, why the plant’s a terrible idea, what the alternatives are, who to write to, and what to tell them.

Other John Brumby sins
Here are just a few of my other concerns about Brumby and his corrupt, incompetent ministers:

* The appalling state of public transport in Victoria – the Public Transport Users Association has useful info about this, while this Age article deals with some of the problems on trams

* A ridiculously expensive price tag for a proposed new rail link

* Using the global financial crisis as an excuse for ignoring local democracy and planning laws to fast track developments

* Refusing to create an anti-corruption commission (what are they frightened of?)

* Inappropriate, anti-competitive development at the already huge Chadstone Shopping Centre

* And who could forget the futile, expensive channel-deepening project, the removal of the ban on genetically modified canola, and the ridiculous north-south pipeline?

Why not vote Green?
I’m not a member of the Greens but I am a long-time Greens voter and supporter. Most people who don’t vote Green have little idea of the policies of this party. Instead they believe the outright lies that both the ALP and the Liberals have spread about the Greens in the name of fear mongering. In fact, this party is the only one that follows the mainstream science on climate change in terms of the degree of carbon cuts they call for. They’re not some wacky fringe group, they’re simply following the science.

Rather than being only concerned with the environment, the Greens have policies on a wide range of issues. The Greens are totally open about their policies, contrary to what some anti-Greens propaganda before elections has suggested. If you’d like to know more about Greens policies, visit the website and click on the ‘Party and Policy’ tab.

You may end up thinking that in many ways the Greens resemble the Democrats, although they have broader aims. (I personally think they should change their name to something like ‘Social Democrats’ to express this broad approach, but that’s another story.)

Remember that when you vote Green, your second preferences (eg Liberal or Labor) count as one vote if the Greens candidate is unsuccessful – so your vote is never wasted!

Thinking of voting Liberal to punish Brumby? The reality is they are likely to be as bad, if not worse, than Labor.

Bring back the garden state!
This is what Victoria used to be called. Previous premier Steve Bracks seemed to be committed to a ‘clean and green Victoria’ but I think that if he hadn’t retired he would have gone the same way as Brumby, perhaps with a tad less smugness. It’s tragic to see government policy so distorted by the demands of the market. We need politicians who will govern for all Victorians, not just big companies.

So get active, get writing, find out more and start telling Brumby where to go, and think about how you’ll vote at the next state election. If you’re a Victorian with a vote, the future of the state is your hands.

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