Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More evidence of the failure of market led reform in Australia: market reform in water threatens Australia's future

"Australian water is now effectively commoditised: allocated to whoever is willing to pay the going price"
Ian Douglas
Excellent article by Ian Douglas of Fair Water Use Australia on the failure of market approaches in national water reform.:
"This blind commitment to growth, which also suffuses the policy platforms of the major parties, is being used to justify public-private partnerships and the construction of ill-conceived and untenably costly water infrastructure, most notoriously desalination plants. Our governments appear quite comfortable entering into public-private partnerships with multinationals whose track record in terms of corporate responsibility on the global stage is, at best, in-glorious."
Douglas argues that the reliance on market based approaches and the privatization of water is incompatible with the idea of access to water as a public good and poses a serious threat to Australia's water future:

Douglas argues that despite the fact that polling indicates that at least 70% of Australians are opposed to water privatization it continues to be imposed on the nation, under the guise of water reform:
"Australian water reform was conceived in 1994 by the Council of Australian Governments; nurtured by the prevailing mantra that free-market exposure was the ultimate panacea for undercapitalised and inefficient public utilities. COAG went one giant leap further, in deciding to establish a national water market; arguing that this would direct water to its most productive use.

In the years since these sweeping changes were announced, the wisdom of applying free market principles to the management of an essential natural resource has been largely discredited by events overseas: In the water-supply sector, major corporate players have been accused and, in more than a few instances, convicted of price-gouging, anti-competitive behaviour, corrupt practice and fraud. On all continents there are moves to wrest control from private corporations. Globally, more than 90 per cent of water services are now publicly owned.

In Australia there are valid concerns that water reform is leaving crucial decisions, with respect to the “where”, “when” and “how” of water distribution, in the hands of entities whose priority is profit rather than socially and environmentally responsible water use. Questions are being raised as to why our governments have been prepared to implement these radical policies without seeking and obtaining prior electoral mandate and in the absence of adequate constitutional protection of water.