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Viv ForbesStuck on Red & Other Essays (First Published by “Business Queensland” and “Common Sense” in 1990), pp. 61-64.About the Author»

I seldom agree with a greenie.

Too many of them are arrogant, narrow-minded, neurotic, anti-development doom-mongers. Many are totalitarians at heart, with a pathetic belief in centralised bureaucratic controls. They show no understanding of market solutions and no respect for individual liberties or private property. They see other human beings as a blight on mother earth. And despite the religious fervour of their public pronouncements, their private actions often reveal a staggering hypocrisy.

However, I must agree with recent comments by conservationist, Doug Yuille, on water conservation. He observed, wisely, that unless water users are made to pay for the resource they consume, we will soon face a critical water shortage.

Water is the commonest liquid on earth. It is infinitely more abundant than petrol, beer, milk, coca-cola, eau-de-cologne or whiskey. And Australia has far more water per head of population that Europe, Russia or America. Yet it is the only liquid which is regularly rationed by governments.

This is caused by our wasteful method of pricing. For most consumers, the charge for water bears no relation to its cost or to the amount used. For many, water is “free” and therefore wasted.

Our looming water crisis is caused not by climate or hydrology, it is the product of politics.

Imagine the results if beer was supplied in the same way as water.

All beer would be brewed by the Brisbane Beer Board. Beer would be free but there would be a beer tax levied on all home owners. The beer tax assessment would depend not on how much beer you drank, or even whether you drank, but on the improved value of your land. In this topsy-turvy would, beer would be supplied in abundance during winter but strictly rationed in hot dry times. Every summer, people with even Medicare numbers would be allowed to drink on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and odd numbers on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Only communion wine would be available on Sundays.

As a further conservation measure, all beer must be drunk from liqueur glasses and inspectors from the Beer Authority would be employed to prosecute drinkers caught using pots or middies in summer. The media would froth and foam about the beer crisis and politicians would open every election with promises to build more breweries.

This is the economic system which caused the queues and famines in Russia, just as it causes water rationing in the Lucky Country. Were beer really supplied on this basis, there would soon be beer ration cards and long queues outside every bar in Australia. (And beer consumption would be far higher, which is the point raised by our conservationist.)

The solution to the water “crisis” lies not in stricter rationing nor in 25 year plans, but in charging what it costs.

A survey of the Warwick City Council revealed that three quarters of city water is used on lawns. A continuation of our “free” water policy will thus see more productive farm land covered by dams in order to irrigate unproductive city lawns. Our free water is costing too dam much.

Were water consumers charged for what they use, many would think that the cheapest source of water for gardens is a rain-water tank. This huge and convenient catchment — the roofs of city buildings — is ignored or prohibited by our water planners.

Others would re-assess the value of lawns which have to be regularly sprinkled with expensive water so they can be regularly mowed with expensive petrol. They would also review the full cost of sewage compared to less wasteful recycling technologies such as septics.

When users pay for their own, the inventive frugality of millions of water users will conserve far more water than will ever be saved by all the platoons of sprinkler policemen. (Gatton found that when rationing was introduced, half the town used more water on their first sprinkling day than the whole town used before rationing.)

Thus pricing reform is our top water priority. The second priority is privatisation of the water industry.

Most people have heard of Margaret Thatcher’s sale of ten British water companies for over ten billion dollars. Less is known about France, which has had a largely privatised water system for more than a century and where 60% of the population is served by private water companies.

There are five nationwide private water companies in France plus many smaller ones. The biggest, Compagnie Generale des Eaux, operates with Paris Water Authority and supplies 144 communes with more than 4 million people. This company, founded in 1853, has 70,000 employees and manages water and waste-water utilities for more than a third of the population of France. It has subsidiaries in Spain, Italy, Britain and America.

The French are very discriminating about the taste of their water, as evidenced by their long tradition of bottled water. Their water companies thus emphasise water quality and dependability and take pride in their ability to meet peak demand while maintaining constant prices.

The General Water Company does all this and also returns an average of 14% on shareholder’s funds.

I first put forward the Greenie position on water conservation in 1978 when I advocated that the Brisbane City Council install water meters to solve our chronic water shortages (and to slow down their costly and divisive dam building program).

I obviously made no impression on the council as they held an auction sale of 34,662 water meters in 1981. (These were the last of a batch of 60,000 water meters purchased by that far-sighted Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, in 1974.)

However, reality eventually catches up, even with politicians, and Sallyanne has decided, in a very tentative way, that water meters are on the way in again. I congratulate her. Their cost will soon be recouped by the postponement of capital expenditure on even more dams, pipelines or pumping stations.

However, Brisbane is way behind the Hunter Water Board, which introduced user-pay water pricing in 1982. This caused a big reduction in the growth in water usage and allowed the deferral of major construction works, including the building of a new dam. Residents no longer pay for water on their property value — they pay a fixed service fee and a variable water usage charge.

We must get politicians out of our water. Their pricing system is wasteful, their compulsory acquisition of dam sites is intolerable and the quality and cost of their product is generally sub-standard. And their love of centralisation will make these problems worse, not better.

Who should own and manage our water? Maybe we should turn it over to Coca-Cola or Power Brewing — they never seem to run short, on even the hottest day.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
  2. Put Windmills in National Parks
  3. Magnifying National Disasters
  4. Please Don't Feed the Animals
  5. Buy Birdsville Made?
  6. The Economics of Flood Risk
  7. Touring Bureaucrats
  8. Our slip-shod laws to blame
  9. Why Wind Won't Work
  10. A Profusion of "Prices"
  11. R.I.P. Ron Kitching - pioneer, explorer, author, family man, entrepreneur, scholar
  12. The Carbon Pollution Lie
  13. Closing Down Australia
  14. The Anti-Industry
  15. The Pyramid Builders
  16. Carbon Tax Bribery
  17. Crown Monopolies
  18. Carbon Tax Job Losses
  19. What Next, a Tax on Water?
  20. Carbon Health Warnings Coming Soon
  21. Growth Mythology
  22. The Tax Collection Industry
  23. Propaganda Puts Paid to Proof
  24. The Milk of the Welfare Teat is Watered Down
  25. "Crops for Cars" as Bad as Everlasting Drought
  26. Poll speech sets record
  27. The Emissions Trading Casino
  28. The Contract Society
  29. A Model Ministry
  30. The Five Point Plan to kill the economy with High Cost Electricity
  31. Put a Sunset Clause in the Carbon Tax
  32. Stuck on Red
  33. Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
  34. Carbon Tax Lies and Bribes
  35. The Middle of the Road
  36. United against taxes
  37. Call for Govt administrator
  38. Property & Prosperity
  39. "The Science is Settled" BUT Durban Climate Summit Not Cancelled
  40. No End to Fuelish Policies?
  41. The Right to Discriminate
  42. Sell the CES
  43. Free Water Costs Too Dam Much
  44. Creating Unemployment
  45. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  46. 1985 news item on Tax Payers United, Centre 2000 and the Australian Adam Smith Club
  47. Having the numbers is not the same as having the truth
  48. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  49. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  50. Caught in a welfare whirlpool
  51. Global Warming Season
  52. Mining in Queensland, Past, Present and Future
  53. WEATHER IS USUALLY UNUSUAL
  54. Political branch formed
  55. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  56. Viv Forbes on Libertarian Strategy and the Constant Resources Myth
  57. The New Brisbane Line?
  58. Carbon Lies
  59. We Mine to Live
  60. Save the taxpayer
  61. Solving Three Canberra Problems
  62. Vested Interests in the Climate Debate
  63. Carbon Tax Retrospective?
  64. Carbon Price Propaganda Taxes the Truth
  65. Don't Burn Food for Motor Spirit - Feed People not Cars
  66. Two Big Climate Taxes
  67. Greens Rediscover Hydrogen Car
  68. Atlas of Australia
  69. Shutting Out The Sun
  70. Safety Mania
  71. Coal - Sinking in the Swamps
  72. Hobbling the Competition
  73. Cubic Currency Coming
  74. "Dear Government"
  75. Viv Forbes mocks Flannery in 1988
  76. What we have is not a drug problem but a drug law problem
  77. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  78. Privatise Now! while they are still worth something
  79. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  80. The New Federalism
  81. Sunset for Solar Subsidies
  82. The mouse will roar
  83. The Road to Homelessness
  84. Planning & Prosperity
  85. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  86. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  87. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  88. Our homeless regulation refugees
  89. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  90. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
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Forbes has long been active in politics, economic education, business and the global warming debate, and was winner of the Australian Adam Smith Award “For outstanding services to the Free Society” in 1986.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5