Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Straight news on Water

In my new job as Economics Editor of the Canberra Times I have to write straight news as well, which is not something I am used to. Most of my writing for print to date has been analysis or opinion. (Although I have of course written countelss radio and TV straight news stories).

Anyway, the newspaper conventions are different, and they go against a quarter century of muscle memory. Things like typing the word "yesterday", for example. I find it very hard to compell my fingers to do it. Or typing "he said" after a quote. Yuk!!!

But there is one joy, after I have written it, that's it! No tape to edit! Another change, which also feels disconcerting.

Here's my straight(ish) piece on water for tomorrow's paper:

The Australian government is to pay farmers for using water more efficiently as part of a new scheme that could herald the broader use of financial instruments to ease Australia’s water crisis.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Water Malcolm Turnbull announced yesterday that farmers who were able to demonstrate that they could cut their water usage through efficiencies such as covering irrigation ditches would be able to sell their excess water entitlements to the government.

Farmers will be invited to tender for the sale of saved water, nominating a price that they are prepared to accept. The tender closes on January 31. The water has to be available to the government by June 2009.

Mr Turnbull hailed the scheme as a market-based approach to solving an environmental problem saying that potential sellers of water would be able to make up their own minds as to the price at which they are prepared to sell it.

The water purchased will be given to the Murray Darling Basin Commission to pump back into the River Murray to help restore the flow around six so-called ’icon sites’, including Victoria’s Barmah State Forest and South Australia’s Murray Mouth.

In order to allay a concern of the Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran tenders for the sale of water will be not be accepted from farmers who intend to wind back their operations or shut up shop.

“I have always been deeply concerned at the impact of direct purchases on irrigation and the communities it supports,” Mr McGauran said yesterday.

But last night in Old Parliament House the Treasurer Peter Costello spoke of creating a national market for the sale of water. In a speech to the Annual Dinner of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry he said if there was a fully functioning national market for water there would be no need for rationing.

“The price signals created by markets would provide incentives for water to be transferred to where it adds the most value; encourage investment in water-efficient technology and cost effective infrastructure where it is needed; and also allow for water to be secured for the environment,” he said.

Mr Turnbull said that developing efficient markets to enable trade was “not a tribute to honour the memory of Adam Smith”, but a means of ensuring that Australia efficiently used a scarce resource.

Asked whether there was a case for setting up a market to allow trading in carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming he said that was a different situation.

“We certainly believe that markets work very well, but it has got to be an efficient market, carbon trading is a larger subject for another discussion,” he said.