Thursday, October 14, 2010

This fire needs a river of calm

imageBack in 1990 at Adelaide Uni a student organisation (from memory a fundamentalist Christian one) decided for some reason to protest the content in the Uni newspaper, On Dit, by burning a pile of the papers. Incidentally it was co-edited at the time by a young David Penberthy (no stranger to controversy even then), and in the final issue of the year there was a photo of the burning being done with the brilliant line (at least for a student newspaper) of “Where they burn On Dits they will eventually burn people:”

It was a line that struck a chord with a young first year Economics student at the time (me), and whenever I see any vision on TV or in a newspaper of someone burning a book, I immediately think of that line.

There is something about burning the written word that just jars with my consciousness. I don’t know why – perhaps it is the connotations of the act being associated with the Nazis, perhaps it is because as a lover of knowledge and literature it is an act that to me is a pure anathema.

imageWhich brings me to today and the vision of people in Griffith protesting the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan by burning copies of the plan.

Now I grew up in a small town in South Australia on the Murray, so I can say I have some understanding of the issues at play – and certainly the feelings. I may have left the town as soon as I could, but were I to hear it was on the verge of being killed because of some plan I could well  imagine feeling some of the anger that many in Griffith are now feeling.

Small towns are important, farms are important and so too is the river.

Now I know little enough about the issue though to know I need to know more. And I want to hear the arguments of those in Griffith, but I’m sorry guys, you lost me as soon as I saw you burning the report.

Burning a report just because you don’t like it is utterly foolish. Tell us why it is wrong – if it is so awful, then use the report’s words against it. Read it out and then explain why it is wrong. Persuade me you are right and it is wrong: if it is so bad it should be an easy thing to do.

But burning it? Well sorry, but you just come across as thugs who lack the wit to make a proper argument. If that is all you got, then you don’t have much of a case. I don’t care what you’re burning, whether it’s the MDB Report, Mein Kampf, the Koran or the Bible you’ve lost me the moment the first page ignites. 

I don’t envy the Murray Darling Basin Authority one bit. Neither do I envy the Government who must be wondering why the governments over the last 50 years have decided to leave them this impossible problem in its lap.

I know too little about water policy to comment on whether or not the cuts need to be 3000  gigalitres or 7000. I would be loathe to say – and I would just be guessing. Clearly though this is an issue that is open for exaggeration and abuse. The easiest thing in the world would be for the opposition to go in hard and talk up the death of towns and the death of the food industry. Even easier would be for the media to play along – nothing like photos of an angry mob to make life simple for the 6pm news.

Fortunately there is some sanity on the opposition's side. South Australian MP Jamie Briggs, came out with this excellent observation on Tuesday:

“There is going to be pain - there's been pain through the basin in the last few years through this horrific drought and the over-allocation. My communities have faced enormous pain. So, we've been suffering enormously. We don't want to have those situations again, so that's why you need to have a plan."

Well said.

You see calm, non-extremist debate is the epitome of Australian democracy. It’s one thing I absolutely love about this country.

There may be some in the media who think we need a dopey Tea Party movement, but I tell you the last thing we need is to move in a direction like the US politics, where pathetic campaign adverts like this are being featured in the coming US Congressional election:

The issue of the Murray Darling has the power to send Australian politics a little bit off kilter if some sections of the political landscape wish it to – and even more so if some section of the media want to encourage it.

Let’s hope cool heads prevail, and fires are put out.


tandah said...

Oh I can almost hear Alan Jones licking his lips!

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to be corrected, but my memory (which my bookmark files may confirm when I check them) says that the citizens in the township of Griffith have the highest per capita usage of 'town water' in NSW, or possibly even Australia - interesting ...

Sonia said...

It didnt help when the head of the Farmers Federation said there would be riots in the streets of these towns. That was like an invitation.Like you I understand how this issue is so important to these communities but something must be done for the river. I guess the higher up the river you are the less you worry about those down stream.

Ashraf Ghebranious said...

Everyone can see we have a problem. And like you I am not in a position to mention numbers of gigaliters. But I know this.

There is more than just one solution.

We need to look at them all.

If we can put water into the system then that will alleviate some of the costs.

If business and manufacturing move to some of these communities then they can make up some of the job losses.

If we increase catchments then that reduces the need to tap the river.

If we use genetically modified crops that can survive with less watering then that too helps.

If we farm smarter and use crops that suit an area and are not so water intensive then that too helps.

If we move some of the farming activities to other water systems then that too helps.

But at the end of the day, if the river system dies, then that helps no one.

Damning one system to support another is selfish and means the death of the other system.

Technology and clever solutions can mean a successful transition with no or minimal loss.

Dong said...

Like you Grog I find it hard to burn the written word. My OH despirs that I cling on to every book that comes into the house. As regards the water issue, I am sure that even those opposed to cuts have to acknowledge that you can't take out more than goes in. To carry on without change now means the end in a few years time. I grew up reliant on Murray water delivered through a pipeline to the other side of Spencer Gulf (Whyalla). Every house had a rainwater tank but not any more. I can't understand how water needs got greater but water management got weaker.

Ben Harris-Roxas said...

Turn the books inland!

Whilst I share your distaste for all book burning, what other avenues might have have been available to them for more measured opposition? I'm not being rhetorical; I'm genuinely unsure about what more constructive approach they could have feasibly taken.

Anonymous said...

Once again this Government is completely failing to sell a perfectly sensible idea.

Rather than going to rural communities effectively with nothing more than "lets cut your water", they should have done a complete audit of users of the system and highlighted exactly who uses water efficiently and who doesn't. Then target the inefficient users with a carrot and stick approach - help them become efficient or force them to by reducing their allowance".

Then you have the data, hard facts, and a sensible way to argue against the Alan Jones', die-hards, and "book burners" who don't want any change.

Anonymous said...

Surely burning the report just shows they've got a good sense of how to catch the national media's eye? Previously coverage of the MDB debate in metropolitan centres has been dominated by environmentalists.

Macca said...

It needs to be remembered that these "farmers", and I use the word loosely, have been feeding off the metro tax payers teat for generations and it needs to stop.

They are the ones who have stuffed the river. No-one else.....they did it with their greed and contempt for those who live in cities.

Farmers are not salt of the earth, laconic purveyors of simple wisdom. They are the biggest rorters in the system and it's time they were called out for what they are.....bludgers....again....bludgers.

If any farmer in the mdb wqants to walk out on his holding and surrender it back to the people of Australia let them do it......No? ....I didn't think so.

There's no courage of conviction in the bush.....only bludgers

Anonymous said...

First thing to come to my mind when I saw the book burning on TV,was the Nazi's burning piles of books too,lol.

polyquats said...

I agree that they lost the argument the moment they resorted to this stupid tactic.
That said, I think the MDB is f***ed, and no amount of rain or reform will save it. Still, we must salvage what we can.

Greg Jericho said...

Anon - perhaps. But I think the over 5000 turning up to the meeting would have gotten the media's attention as well.

The can put forward their views with passion, hell even yell. All of that is good and necessary.

My point is that if this burning becomes the standard procedure, what are we gaining? How is it helping us get the debate that we need? A plan comes out and it gets burned? So the next one will as well? And the next...? Surely we can do better than that.

Peter said...

They understand that consultation is a phoney effort in this day and age, and that participating in government consultation is less productive than hitting your head against a brick wall.

They know they need to engage in stunts to get the media to watch, and to get the public attention off the plan's proponents and onto its victims.

It usually works. It seems to be working now.

Anonymous said...

May be with tony windsor now heading the enquiry cooler head will prevail Mr. windsor is a country, person and a independant

and will do a good job explaining the situation i would think.
the sad thing is what if in the end there is NO water

Peter said...

Perhaps the farmers need to hire a constitutional lawyer.

Section 100 of the Australian Constitution is pretty clear. The only ambiguous part of it is the word reasonable.

100: The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.

Deblonay said...

The TV political item from the USA ,is part of the endless campaign in the USA by the Israeli lobby to further increase their already substantial power over US politicians..
Many noted Americans now fear the influence of the Zionist Lobby over all aspects of USA policy in the Middle East,which locks the USA into a state of endless wars in the Islamic world... the Democrats Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan from the right have all recently expressed their alarm as the growth of the power of the Zionist movement in US politics

Anonymous said...

We can't have a version of the Tea Party yet. The required ten years gap haven't passed yet.

Andrew Elder said...

You do know the line comes from Heine: "where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also."

People are right, given recent history, to assume that a short blast of fury will cause pollies to drop any remotely controversial idea.

I disagree that facts alone will resolve this debate: hasn't worked with climate change.

Golden said...

When one side of politics encourages book burning and talks about soldiers being "stabbed in the back" I start to worry. I'm not going to use the N word but it is disturbing to see political debate degenerate to such emotive and simplistic terms.

easygoing777 said...

By the 10yrs gap I assume your talking about the mental age.

our man in Canberra said...

There is something about burning the written word that just jars with my consciousness.

I feel much the same way (unless of course we're talking books by Dan Brown or John Gray) but agree with Peter (@10:54pm). Recent history shows shouty stunts of this type, that gain blanket media coverage, work pretty well with the ALP Federales

Anonymous said...

Just as worrying as the burning reports were the crudely hand-painted signs outside Griffith, urging locals to "Fight" and featuring images of guns. Jamie Briggs will probably get his ears burned by Abbott and the other LNP heavies, who are keen to foment as much anger as they can over the MDB report.

Gnoll110 said...

The problem have developed largely over the last 30 years. It's a combination of technological change, bad case law rulings, the resurgence in neo-classical economics and greed on the part of the states and some individual landholders. Not a simple situation.

Simply to buy back water in the market is the wrong move. Hell, a market for water was bad idea to start with. Personally I favour taking water back on a 'last in, first out basis, combined with infrastructure spending to improve productivity.

Of course making farmers spend of infrastructure and them have the state pocket the water by reselling it or piping it to Melb (and Adelaide) doesn't help the lower lakes. Both these have happened in the last year or so!

MissHeliotrope said...

I am never quite sure why so many people in work that involves finite resources (loggers as well) seem to feel they have a right to permanent jobs. If teachers & nurses don't, why do people who depend on water or old growth forests? While realising that communities & townships depend upon having people around, they are based on something that isn't always there. A bit like those old gold rush towns that are now gone.

archiearchive said...

Yes, I agree that the burning of the report was a pointless - um - inflammatory - exercise. What was most revealing of the state of the argument was the farmer who was shown on ABC TV News with the perfect solution to the whole water problem, "Build more dams". Yes, that old truth. Build them and the rains will come.

fozzy said...

I saw the coverage last night and thought this isn't going to win the farmers many friends. Cynically, at the end of the day you have a few Lib/Nat seats staying that way against the Labour seats in Adelaide and stemming the flow of other environmentalists around the country to the Greens.

I hope Gillard just holds her nerve.

The best bit was the farmer who said these drongos (MDBA) don't know anything, the solution is simple - drill more bores. My partner just laughed at the stupidity of that - she's from a family of Riverina farmers.


After strolling through the comments above it seems that everyone has contributed fragments of a collage that once assembled is too big to fit into the one frame.

Forgive me Grog for thinking for a while about your sentiment about burning books and documents.

All sorts of people have burned books. It is far better to get a message across that way rather than striking out at other people.

I can remember certain conscientious objectors burning conscription papers.
I can also remember one or two of those pacifists growing older, gaining high office, and staging aggressive, pre-emptive military action against perceived threats. (Perceived threats. See – Bedouins in a tent, slash and burn squatters in jungle clearing too close to CIA coca plantation, legit. pharmaceutical plant, Chinese Embassy, etc.)

Wow. Check that out. I’ve jibed my ship and cut across my own course in that line of thought!

Okay then, running with that it may well mean the shrinks are right about kids who play with matches – that they either grow up to be rednecks or corporate psychopaths.

More seriously, I’m finding it difficult to understand why ‘Macca’ was being so harsh on farmers as to call ‘em bludgers.
Some of my friends are Je- - bludgers.

I guess, though, that sort of attitude is just a sign of the times.
Dear old Macca’s probably a bit of a cosmopolitan secure in the knowledge that his meat and drink is mostly imported anyway.
Yep. Milk comes from milkbars – dunnit?

Which reminds me that the next stage of agrarian affirmative action will be for our effected farmers to go ballistically bolshie along the same lines they occasionally do in Europe and the US.

Most city dwellers don’t know that tractors towing muck trailers have to go really slow on freeways otherwise everything slops out over those nice shiny cars.
The European experience is that a couple of hundred tons of pig merde slopped over the legislature steps produces a timely, salutary response.

In the end it comes down to the fact that parliament has admitted the bush has been left out for too long. In this age of the press grabbing gesture it may be worthwhile considering whether a staged response of burning a few copies of a flawed document might be better than some other options.

Anonymous said...

All I'll say is that by their book/report burning, these farmers are also saying that they probably don't believe in taking action n Global Warming and Climate Change(otherwise they would have thought of all the CO2 going up in their smoke), or environmental degradation as a result of all the trees that were cut down to produce the reports they were burning. So, all in all, their action said a lot more about them than they would have thought.

Greg Jericho said...

Cheers Andrew - I actually did not know that quote... I don't know why.. fell rather foolish for not. (oh well, sure that won't be the last time)

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

Let's try to avoid slipping into an us v. them viewpoint. This morning I followed the Renmark consultation meeting through AdelaideNow and learned some new things.
I've followed the MDB issue for over 25 years as a person vehemently opposed to the granting of water rights and watched the droves of estate agents trawling up and down the rivers buying up swags of water rights. The people on whose behalf they were purchasing those rights had no care then about the plight of the river or the eventual outcome for the other farmers.
It was mentioned during the Renmark consultation that there is estimated to be $30 billion worth of water in the Basin at present, I'm wondering now how much of that is going, and will go, to speculators rather than the people who use and manage their water allocations judicially.

The language injected into the atmospherics of the consultation process is a very worrying sign when it is linked up with other references being made in other areas. The book burning is a matter of concern as you have highlighted, as is the imagery depicted on some of the signage displayed by the protestors up river. Likewise the underlining of certain words (eg. "kill" the plan) on posters could only have been on purpose to inflame passions surrounding the issue.

The majority of water users along the MDB would not be supportive of being manipulated in the fashion they appear to be in some ways.

As usual we cannot expect the media in this country to show any ounce of balance. Instead of a double page spread of idiocy, let's have a double page explanation of the situation and two or more lucid arguments for or against the issue.

Sorry if in making this suggestion I'm expecting too much sanity to prevail in this country. I'd hate to offend anyone.

Andrew Elder said...

No worries Grog, I'm practically innumerate when it comes to economics.

Juxtaposing this post with the one before it, it seems a shame our man Hunt is not leading from the front, using this issue as Kevin Rudd used oil-for-food as a tilt for leadership not only of party but of nation.

julian dunmurphy said...

All excellent arguments Grog and I agree with you 100% about the ridiculous action of burning the written word.
Unfortunately, in this instance however, the strategy has granted the protesters their desired outcome.
The press (who are more interested in Chilean miners than a Chilean earthquake), were thrilled to convey the drama of the stunt and have given what looked like a dozen thugs the avenue to impact policy. The group bore no resemblance to a large mis-represented cross section of our society and have shown that there is indeed use in crying over spilt allocations.