CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Saving 'Brand Labor' from Traveston Dam? What about Saving 'Brand Queensland' and 'Brand Australia'?
(email sent 31/3/11)

Gary Johns

Re: Bligh the only one who can save brand Labor, The Australian, 31/3/11

In one part of your article you suggested that:

“Bligh is a very tough cookie. At the height of the recent Traveston Crossing dam battle (the dam needed to drought-proof southeast Queensland), she took questions and abuse from 1500 angry Gympie residents for five hours without a break.

She was adamant in arguing the need for the dam, and outlasted the mob.

Unfortunately, then federal environment minister Peter Garrett stopped the dam to save a lungfish. Methinks it is Labor that will need the lungs.”

Whether the Traveston Dam would have drought-proofed SE Queensland was highly uncertain (see Evaluating Additional Water Supplies for SE Queensland in Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland’s Water, 2007). The proposal was for a shallow dam on an alluvial plain – apparently subject (according to a variety of professional observers) to: (a) uncertain rainfall like that making Wivenhoe Dam unreliable as a water supply; and (b) large losses due to evaporation, seepage, siltation and aquatic weeds. The scheme may well have been more a political gesture than a reflection of sound judgment. The federal Environment Minister may have been less concerned with saving a lungfish than with saving the Queensland Government (perhaps with Ms Bligh’s encouragement?) from having to admit that the scheme (to which hundreds of millions of dollars had already been committed) was a white elephant.

Ms Bligh’s predecessor (Peter Beattie) had said that his government was committed to building Traveston Dam, whether or not it was feasible – and his administration seemed to be characterised by crises, apologies and huge expenditures of public money to clean up messes. Ms Bligh’s aim in taking over from him (and therefore hopefully ‘saving brand Labor’) seemed to mainly involve an attempt to restore competence in government so that political leaders were not simply seen to be reacting after crises emerged (see Queensland’s Next Successful Premier, 2007). Her goal has at best been partly achieved – though it is certainly what is needed to save ‘brand Labor’.

However my suspicion is that the real challenge now is not just to save ‘brand Labor’ but rather to save ‘brand Queensland’ (see Response to an Open Note to Campbell Newman and Beyond Populist Rhetoric) and even ‘brand Australia’ (see Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building).

John Craig