The proponents would clearly be interested in a long-term deal - let’s say 100 years – and would only be seeking pristine water, from untouched catchments.  Such a deal would preclude logging having occurred or taking place for the next century or so.  No clear-felling in perpetuity, in effect.  No plantations, and no spraying.

Apparently the plan has been occupying space in Kevin Rudd’s office for the last three months.  According to The Age columnist Kenneth Davidson, who first broke the story of the negotiations last week, vested interests in the federal and Victorian political arenas have other ideas.

That much is certainly clear from the recent COAG “decisions” about the Murray River system, and from Victorian Premier John Brumby’s controversial plans for a North-South pipeline from the Goulburn basin to Melbourne’s water supply and a desal plant at Wonthaggi.

But the arguments the consortium have no doubt put to the Tasmanian Government during the last five weeks or so are that there are jobs in the venture and on-going royalties that are far in excess of anything Tasmania is likely to get from other large-scale investments, such as Gunns’ proposed pulp mill.

The struggling Hydro, necessarily party to the current negotiations, could see the project as a solution their billion-dollar debt problem, and could also provide some incentive for a large-scale diversification into renewables such as wind power. 

The consortium will also be saying that the cost will be about $1.5-$2 billion, not $12 billion as suggested by skeptics, that environmental flows from the Pieman and the Forth will not be affected (their estimates are that 350 gigalitres will come from 5300 gigalitres that currently flow into the sea after electricity has been generated) and that their pipelines (2.5 – 3 metres diameter) will not interfere with current land use. 

The altruism card is also likely to be put squarely on the table.  It will be twofold, and will go something like this:  In the first place, Tasmania has a once-only opportunity – “historic” would probably be the word - to play an important role in contributing to save the Murray-Darling system. 350 gigalitres is enough for Melbourne to be water-secure into the future, and 350 gigalitres to Melbourne (or the Goulburn region) will help save north-central Victoria’s farmers, who produce 9% of the world’s dairy products, and support a population several times larger than Tasmania.

Secondly, it would be an enabler for a “kind and clever” Tasmania, a sure winner in helping save water catchments from future destruction and at the same time ensuring a long-term guaranteed flow of funds into the Tasmanian treasury.  No need for public subsidies to prop up ailing corporates who shed jobs without notice anyway, no need for government-corporate deals which end up costing the Tasmanian taxpayer an arm and a leg while sending any profits to shareholders offshore.

Sounds too good to be true?  Sure does.  It’s a pretty long pipeline, and the whole proposal is going to be met with a much bigger whole lot of public incredulity, skepticism and cynicism as well.

It is hard see such a proposal getting past square one in a political and economic environment in Tasmania – not to mention climatic environment – where farmers throughout the State are under siege, and trying to keep politicians of all parties to commit to workable, so-called “drought-proofing” schemes.

In this context, indications are that the consortium’s plans do not include the possibility of piping west coast water to drought-stricken parts of Tasmania, and have already put a broader proposal such as that into the too-hard basket. 

Then, of course, there is Gunns.  It’s not hard to envisage their reaction to such a proposal.  It would place clean water at the front and centre as an extremely valuable resource in Tasmania’s long-term economic future.  This would only give further negative emphasis to the extent of clear-felling in Tasmania’s catchments in general, the massive use of water on the cheap by replacement monocultural plantations and the use of chemical spraying.  It would strengthen the now-widespread public concerns about the long-term deleterious impacts of intensive logging on Tasmania’s economic future. 

But who knows?  Is David Llewellyn speaking to David Bartlett?  Has Bartlett’s position already been determined by other pressures?  After all, he was at COAG when the Murray was on the agenda.  Is the Government now too scared, or too mired in an entrenched culture of secrecy and hidden deals, or ineptitude, to inform the public about what is happening?  The farcical Brooke Street wharf issue suggests so. 

On the other hand, nothing would be a surprise in Tasmanian politics at the moment.  Who would have thought, for example, that a Tasmanian parliament would allow a corporation to completely dictate to it – and I mean “dictate” in the literal sense, as in “dictation” – the legislation that it wanted, when it wanted it and how it wanted it?

And, apart from Paul Lennon and his replacement, all those politicians who supported Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 and the processes by which it became law, are still sitting on the government and opposition benches and in all the ministerial offices.

One other thing.  It is intriguing, is it not, that apart from Tasmanian Times, no other Tasmanian print media or radio has asked questions about this issue since it was raised by The Age over a week ago?  Why not?

Earlier: Pipeline and Bartlett’s future

Peter Henning


Peter Henning

WHEN WILL the Tasmanian public be informed about the proposal to pipe hundreds of gigalitres of water per annum across Bass Strait?

A cashed-up consortium, including an oil-gas company, is currently holding serious discussions with the Tasmanian Government, at ministerial level (David Llewellyn) about the proposal to take 350 gigalitres from the Pieman and Forth systems, which would be linked by tunnel.