CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email 15/8/07

Hon Mr Malcolm Turnbull, MP,
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

Allocating Blame for SE Queensland's Water Supply Crisis

I should like to comment on your reported recent criticism of the Federal Opposition leader (Porteous C., 'Rudd blamed for drought', Courier Mail, 15/8/07).

You suggested that Mr Rudd, as the then Queensland premier's chief-of-staff, cancelled the Wolffdene Dam proposal, but replaced it with nothing else; and was thus largely to blame for SE Queensland's current water shortage . The Opposition spokesman on Infrastructure and Water (Anthony Albanese) then suggested that your claim was an over-simplification (eg because one Liberal Party member also opposed construction of that dam).

On the basis of my attempt to analyse the background to SE Queensland's water crisis (see Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis), I have to say that both claims seem simplistic.

Incompetent management of water supply development in SE Queensland appears to have many causes, including:

  • the 'curse' of Queensland's natural resource wealth - which allows a low standard of political and community leadership to prevail;
  • unworkable federal fiscal imbalances - which made it increasingly hard for states to take real responsibility, or be held accountable, for their nominal functions;
  • neglect of public administration machinery (eg under Bjelke Peterson's governments);
  • gross mismanagement of public sector 'reform' (especially by the Goss administration in which Mr Rudd had a central role); and
  • the unrealistic and dysfunctional machinery for government generally, and growth management in particular, created by the latter administration.

The Goss Government's main contribution to SE Queensland's water supply crisis was not the cancellation of the Wolffdene Dam proposal (as you reportedly suggested). That project had already been compromised to some extent by earlier governments (eg by allowing urban development in the catchment).

Rather its main contribution was in creating unworkable (ie highly centralised and politicised) machinery of government that was simply unable to recover from this set-back. For example, nothing else was done mainly because Wivenhoe Dam was believed to be adequate for the region's water supplies. This impression prevailed apparently because public sector 'reform' allowed cronies and 'yes men' to replace those who knew that Wivenhoe Dam was mainly built for flood mitigation, not for water supply (as its catchment historically seems to be subject to occasional very large rainfall events - separated by long periods of 'drought').

Even today the agencies responsible for water supplies seem keen to conceal the fact that SE Queensland's crisis is something that competent professionals would have been able to anticipate (see Understanding Water Supplies in SEQ). The latter was an (unanswered as usual) attempt to gain clarification of what appeared to be a deliberately deceptive interpretation of the cause of SE Queensland's water crisis by the Infrastructure Department.


John Craig