• Hannah Phillips

Water Is the Nationals Centrepiece Policy

The only impression that the Nationals have made on the election campaign so far has been Barnaby Joyce’s brain explosion during the Patricia Karvelas’ water buybacks interview. They are locked in close campaigns all over Australia and it is possible they could lose seats in Queensland, NSW and Queensland and need to pull a giant rabbit out of a hat. This was the background to National’s leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s appearance at the National Press Club yesterday. Mr McCormack is not a charismatic performer, at least when he’s in the guise of a mild mannered politician. Amy Remeikis of ‘The Guardian’ thought he resembled a loaf of Tip Top that talks. Mind you, it’s different when he does his Elvis impersonation, which is a rip roaring act. Mr McCormack came to the Press Club with one of the Coalition’s major policy announcements: the establishment of a National Water Grid. This is a very brave initiative. All through the Murray Darling Basin there are farmers, environmentalists and politicians are calling for an end to the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The truth is that nobody likes it: not the farmers, or the greens, the state governments or the federal government. Michael McCormack doesn’t like aspects of it: he told the Press Club that he thinks water buybacks are lazy policy. But the Murray Darling Basin Plan cannot be repudiated because although it is a sub-optimal solution it is the best possible outcome from a process that involved six jurisdictions and numerous stakeholders. Now that water has become a key issue in the election the Nationals have decided to go on the offensive. The National Water Grid will involve all the states and territories as well as the Commonwealth. The initial phase will be the allocation of $100 million of Commonwealth funding to develop a national water plan. Mr McCormack says that the world’s best scientists will be brought to Australia to develop best practice systems to harvest and harness water and to design infrastructure to transport water to places where it is needed. Work will also be done on how to best deliver much needed water to the environment, farmers and communities. The policy will have to be not so much bi-partisan as non-partisan. If it is going to work, it will have to get support, however grudging, from everybody including green environmentalists who tend to take absolutist positions on plans such as these. At the moment the Coalition has committed $3 billion for water storage and management. Michael McCormack says that without co-operation from the states and territories, it will be impossible for the Commonwealth to accomplish the objectives of the plan. At the Press Club yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister was asked about the National’s decision to preference One Nation ahead of Labor and the Greens, in light of the recent scandals involving fund raising visits to the American National Rifle Association and a One Nation Senate candidate’s visit to a strip club. Michael McCormack didn’t shy away from the question: he said the Nationals had more in common with One Nation than it did with Labor and the Greens. This is a pragmatic approach that will probably save LNP seats in Queensland but it may also be something that is too much for the Greens and Labor to stomach when it comes to co-operation on the policy front even for something as vital as water.