David Landini: Politics Surrounding Water

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The Problem.

A large number of constituents of the Federal seat of Farrer have informed the sitting member, Sussan Ley, of the economic and financial harm being caused by the Murray Darling Basin Authority Basin Plan. Further, a significant number of constituents have provided irrefutable evidence that the Basin Plan is based on incorrect science and false assumptions.

The expected outcome of these presentations is that Sussan will ensure that errors in the Basin Plan will be corrected, and the constituents will be spared the harm they are suffering.

The reality is that there is no attempt to correct the Basin Plan, and Sussan’s affected constituents continue to suffer.

The Reason.

This lack of reaction by Sussan and the Coalition Government is initially bewildering. The lack of reaction cannot be attributed to a devotion to the Basin Plan, as Sussan has never expressed this, and the Plan’s credibility has been thoroughly demolished anyway.

To understand Sussan’s inaction, the politics of water needs to be examined.

Based on her 2013 election win over her Labor Party opponent by nearly 29,000 votes (after preference distribution), Sussan will be re-elected in the 2016 election whether she adequately serves her irrigation based constituents or not. This situation can explain to some degree Sussan’s inaction.

The political situation in South Australia also needs to be considered. Among many South Australians, Murray River water is a significant issue, and can cause politicians to be re-elected or not. Among many influential South Australians, the attitude toward water can be summed up as ‘It’s All Ours’.

It is probable that the Liberal Party strategists have concluded that despite whatever happens with water, it will not affect Sussan’s re-election in Farrer. However, it might cause the winning or losing of any number of seats in South Australia. Therefore, politically, there is no benefit for the Liberal Party in pursuing water for the benefit of citizens in Farrer, and if they actually do pursue water, there is a possibility of losing seats in South Australia.

The Liberal Party situation concerning pursuing water in Farrer can be described as ‘There is no gain, only pain’.

Collusion and Anti Competitive Behavior.

Notably, the National Party doesn’t stand a candidate against Sussan in Farrer. In fact, neither the Liberal Party nor the National Party stand candidates against sitting members of the other party in any Federal or State elections anywhere in Australia. This is because these parties have a coalition agreement that includes the term that neither party will stand a candidate against a sitting member from the other party.

The coalition agreement is a comfortable deal for Liberal and National Party politicians. In many cases it removes their only genuine electoral opponent. These politicians only have to defeat a Labor Party candidate, which, based on the example of Farrer, is a certainty. So the coalition agreement creates a safe seat.

It is expected that a politician in a safe seat will vigorously pursue his or her electors’ interests; especially considering that he or she has no need to fear losing any future election. The reality is that the vast majority of politicians in safe seats do not vigorously pursue their electors’ interests. It is probable that the reason for their inaction is that vigorous action will create some unpopularity, particularly among Labor and Green voters, which can be unpleasant. Since they are going to be re-elected anyway, it is much easier and convenient to not act vigorously.

The perverse reality of the Liberals and Nationals not standing against each other is that they have created a safe seat where their representative no longer has the electoral imperative to pursue their electors’ interests. And this is the observable reality.

The non competition term of the coalition agreement is actually collusion. It is anti-competitive, and while certainly comforting for politicians, it is detrimental to the electorate.

While the directors of these parties may not comprehend this, collusion is also detrimental for their parties. Non competition removes the opportunity for members to cause improvement in political policy, or protect improvements made. This removes the reason for anyone being a member of either party. This inevitably leads to a decline in quantity and quality of membership. Members of both parties will attest to decline, but probably not understand why

The Solution.

The most obvious way to improve political water policy is to improve political representation. However, improving political representation can only be achieved by political competition. To enable genuine political competition, the non competition term of the coalition agreement needs to be removed. This will cause both parties to contest elections and ensure that the votes of irrigation based electors are pursued vigorously by both Liberal and National Party candidates. Either of these candidates will have a real possibility of winning. This competition will inevitably improve water policy, to the benefit of every citizen in Farrer.

The members of these parties and the wider community need to insist that the directors of both the Liberal and National parties cease their collusion. No business in Australia is allowed to collude with their competitors, and neither should politicians.

David Landini

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