Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Roderic Gill on those water raiders

A critical perspective on the investigation into potential Clarence River water diversion:

"Further north in the State of New South Wales, an old and previously rejected proposal to pipe water from the coastal river systems is back on the agenda. The proposal is to construct a massive storage on the upper tributaries of the Clarence River system and divert water inland to the Border Rivers system. While the same objections that ruled this out last time are still in place, those once defeated proponants are keeping pace with these times of heightened community concerns over water shortages to feed the idea back into the current water crisis-framed public agenda.......

It has taken the current Australian water crisis to put the Clarence diversion proposal back on the agenda. Responding to what must be extraordinary political pressures, the Federal Government's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull, commissioned a study undertaken by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) to examine options for securing water supplies for the South East Queensland (SEQ) region of the country; a region that is currently at the limits of economic and community resilience as it hits the overwhelming constraint of finite water resources....

With their report done, it is now, apparently, time for the Minister to solicit feedback. And to begin a 'consultative process' with the relevant States. Most interestingly, this rhetoric seemed to overlook the possibility of direct consultation with the actual communities involved, including engagement with the associated local councils. ......

 The Minister's commissioning of a report on 'feasible' options has followed an expert, top-down pathway. The Minister initiated the search for 'expert' views on available options. It is more than interesting that an engineering-focused consultancy was employed as this is reflective of a desire to articulate options from within that perspective (to enquire into what can be 'constructed' in order to mitigate prevalent water shortages). It is pertinent that the opening investigation was not into prevailing understandings of the water shortage issues, of trying to understand the behaviour of water users, to understand the aspirations of all concerned, or to understand how water resources are perceived. The opening setting here was, in other words, not to do with improving understandings of the prevailing 'culture of water use'. The opening setting was one of fixing a problem via engineering solutions, rather than via the promulgation of behaviour change.......

The role of an appropriately talented facilitator is to maintain the learning possibilities that will invariably ensue from discursively embracing conversations. The role of government is to be part of this process and listen to it. The role of government is to empower this kind of process. This is not what Minister Turnbull is doing at this point." [Gill,Roderic,(2007)"When the Rivers Run Dry: lessons from the drought",ch 5,excerpts]

Full chapter at:

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