May 26, 2007

Current levels of water use are completely unsustainable in Australia — the world’s driest inhabited continent. Excessive water use, especially by heavy industry and water-intensive agribusiness, is causing irreparable damage to our fragile ecosystems and creating chronic water shortages.

Conventional free-market economics aims to solve this problem by putting a price on water and allowing it to be traded by those who can afford to purchase it.

This approach allows governments to ignore the real challenge of conserving water properly and rationing its use according to need. Trading in water encourages speculation and the most profitable rather than the most sustainable and socially just uses. It leads to poor farming practices and increased prices for residential use.

This is the approach of the Australian government’s National Water Initiative. It is also insufficiently funded to achieve the wholesale conversion of water infrastructure and reduction in water demand that the ecosystems along the Murray-Darling basin need to recover.

A serious water conservation policy has to target the big industrial and agricultural water users. Currently the lack of water conservation by industry and agribusiness means that the efforts of householders to conserve water are being wasted.

Water is not simply a commodity or an input into industry and agriculture: it is the central element of our ecosystems.

Instead of market-based approaches we advocate an all-round plan for water sustainability based on a thorough scientific assessment of rivers, wetlands and water tables. Data collection and research, including public research, is increasingly funded by mining and other corporations and results suppressed or reworked. Public research must be non-biased, accessible by all and in public hands.

The knowledge of Indigenous communities is an essential part of making that assessment and developing sound proposals for water conservation.

In the country, measures to preserve normal water flows in rivers and wetlands and implement low-input sustainable farming practices are essential. In the cities, measures to reduce water waste and start harvesting storm water and rain water and recycling waste water are essential.

There is enough water for everyone if comprehensive conservation measures were adopted and its use fairly allocated. Such an approach would remove the need to build further large, environmentally damaging, dams.

To achieve water sustainability, public ownership and democratic, accountable management of water resources is essential. Unless the water supply is publicly owned, the profit motive will always disrupt scientifically-based water conservation measures.

Socialist Alliance supports and campaigns for:
  • An end to the privatisation of water and water infrastructure (dams, water pipelines, pumping stations). Where these have already been privatised, they should be returned to public ownership
  • No public-private partnerships for water projects. All water projects to be 100% in public hands. Establish water allocations for each catchment and region based on the assessed needs (scientific, environmental, agricultural/industrial, or domestic) of that area.
  • Data collection and public research to be non-biased, accessible by all and in public hands.
  • No trading of water “rights” for speculative purposes.
  • End schemes for trading between regions.
  • An end to the free access of the mining industry to water, in artesian basins, catchments and rivers.
  • Enforcement of the constitutional right of farming and environmental access to clean water.
  • The prosecution and banning from operation of mining and agribusiness corporations that pollute water, with full remediation costs for total damage, past and present, and for banks and politicians to be held accountable for their actions in support of mining companies that pollute water.

An all-round water conservation plan

In the country

  • Build irrigation pipelines to save water evaporating in open-channel irrigation areas,
  • Promote and fund conversion to drip irrigation wherever practicable,
  • Reduce water extraction rates from groundwater systems until depletion ceases,
  • Stop any mine that poisons water and catchments,
  • Stop land clearing and logging in important water catchments to preserve water quality. Increase funding to land clearing prevention services
  • Implement plans to restore water catchment areas and halt the damage done by land clearing, erosion and mining. Prioritise the replanting of native vegetation in damaged catchment areas,
  • Fund education and appropriate assistance for farming communities to move to lower water-use crops and farming practices,
  • Phase out water-intensive monoculture crops in climatic regions which remain unsustainable,
  • Limit maximum private dam sizes rather than charging for rainwater stored in farm dams for irrigation, and subsidise irrigation efficiency technology to limit water wastage.

In urban areas

  • Improve urban water conservation by providing grants to subsidise installation of water tanks, grey water systems, and dry composting toilets.
  • Recycle water for appropriate industrial and outdoor use.
  • Enforce conservation measures on industrial and commercial water users.
  • Require sustainable water use planning for all new industrial, commercial and agricultural developments.
  • Establish comprehensive water efficiency standards for appliances.


  • Use desalination, which consumes vast amounts of energy, only as a last resort.
  • Oppose the building of desalination plants unless they use renewable energy and brine discharge is avoided (for example by producing commercial salt instead of waste brine).

Restore adequate river flows

  • Establish adequate, scientifically based, flow targets for all river systems.
  • Use the water made available by conservation measures to restore flow levels in rivers and wetlands to a level sufficient to sustain the river ecosystem in its natural state or as close as can be scientifically determined.
  • Buy back water allocations to increase flows further if conservation measures are insufficient. If necessary increase funding for buying back water allocations.
  • Fully protect the rivers of northern Australia to prevent a recurrence of the Murray-Darling disaster.

Full support to affected communities

  • Provide financial assistance for transition, including relocation and retraining, to regional communities where farming and other activity is stopped or severely curtailed by water conservation measures and/or ongoing drought and climate change.
  • Assist rural communities to establish sustainable farming practices to maintain national food supply.
  • Increase funding to Landcare to provide permanent employment for farmers displaced by water conservation measures and climate change.