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The Biggest Con

I'm pretty confident most Australians are unaware of the biggest privatisation CON that has occurred in the history of this country. I'm not talking about the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank, Telecom, Medibank Private, Australia's airports and a host of other publicly owned assets over the past four decades. At least in these cases the revenue made from the sale of profit making publicly owned assets was absorbed back into consolidated revenue.

I'm talking about the biggest CON since the lie this country was not inhabited when it was colonised by the British in 1788 – TERRA NULLIUS was struck down by the High Court of Australia in the 1992 Mabo judgement that found indigenous Australians had rights to land and water in law because of their prior occupation of this land.

I'm talking about the giving away (that’s right, giving away) of 30 billion dollars of public assets to the private sector for what has turned out to be nothing. In the dying days of the Howard government, assets that had always been owned by the Crown and state governments – WATER was given away to the private sector on the understanding the agribusiness sector would look after this country’s inland waterways. Prior to 2006 privately owned farming land paid a license fee to state governments to access water. After the privatisation of this country’s publicly owned water resources, local land holders had free hold title both over the land they owned and the water on that land. Every year almost two billion dollars of water rights are traded on the open market. During droughts the price of the total water available increases from 30 billion dollars to nearly 50 billion dollars.

Publicly owned water was given over to the private sector on the understanding Sustainable River Audits (SRA) would be conducted by the government to ensure water was available to keep the rivers in this country flowing. SRAs were conducted in 2008 and 2012 by the Federal government. These audits were discontinued in 2012 because the very same farmers who had been given private titles to billions of dollars of publicly owned water that they had paid a license fee to access began to complain about the cost of complying with the conditions they had to meet when they were given private ownership rights to water.

Unfortunately, unless there is radical changes to the Australian constitution, the Australian government cannot legislate to put this critical resource back in public hands as the government would be required to pay fair compensation to the very same farmers who initially received control of the water resources on their land for nothing. Water is too critical a commodity to permanently remain in private hands. The Federal government needs to reintroduce license fees for access to water and more importantly, stop the two billion dollar yearly water trading that currently occurs to ensure there is enough water for the environment as well as the farming sector and the cities of this country.

Dr. Joseph Toscano