Brisbane’s Man-made Flood Peak!

How SEQ Water failed “Flood Mitigation 101”.

It is surprising how some journalists couldn’t pick a story if it was humping their leg.

On the morning of 12th January, the day before the flood peak that inundated the Brisbane CBD and much of Ipswich, Brian Williams of Brisbane’s Courier Mail, in a masterpiece of misreporting by omission, reported that releases from Wivenhoe Dam were to be reduced from an overnight peak of 645,000 megalitres/day to 205,000 ML/day with the stated aim of “allowing the Bremer River and Lockyer River to subside, thereby easing floods on Brisbane downstream.”

“Wivenhoe Dam levels had dropped just 1 per cent from the previous night, reflecting the massive volumes of water flowing into the storage from its 7020 km2 catchment.” That 1% drop was from a dam capacity of 191% and is an oblique way of saying that the massive flood surge buffer had been pushed close to its limits and they now had no choice but to dump the same amount of water that was flowing into the dam.

What wasn’t mentioned was the fact that for more than a week prior to this large release, only 170,000  only 100,000 ML/day was released over the weekend as the storage capacity was allowed to rise to 191% from two weeks of heavy rains. And this meant the carefully designed flood buffer, having been taken to its limits, could no longer function as a buffer. The city was entirely at the mercy of the elements and it would only have taken another 37mm of rain in the catchment to hit the limits.

And as it takes 36 hours for water to flow from Wivenhoe to the CBD then it is absolutely clear that the flood peak of Wednesday night and Thursday morning was a direct result of the previous night’s forced release of the total inflow from the catchment. And this was only necessary because SEQ Water had spent two weeks releasing much less water than was being captured, into a river that was still well below minor flood level.

The article went on to report that releases would go back up to 301,000 ML/day in a few days to reduce the flood buffer volume and that this level of release was, “unlikely to cause a second significant rise in the river.”

What wasn’t mentioned in relation to the reduction from the overnight peak of 645,000 megalitres/day to 205,000 ML/day, with the stated aim of “allowing the Bremer River and Lockyer River to subside, thereby easing floods on Brisbane downstream,” was the fact that the earlier large forced release did the direct opposite. It prevented the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers from subsiding and exacerbated the flooding of Brisbane downstream.

By reducing releases to only 205,000 ML/Day after the peak discharge, SEQ Water is essentially admitting that the peak discharge impaired the flow from the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers by about 100,000 ML/day over that 36 hour period, which they then had to remedy with a lower Wivenhoe release.

At this point those who did not come down in the last shower might ask, “so why didn’t they release 300,000ML/day before the buffer was fully extended?” If they had done so there would not have been any need for a larger forced release at all. 

Limited Wivenhoe releases on Monday and Tuesday were justified because the flash flooding in the Bremmer and Lockyer Valleys needed somewhere to go.  But that doesn’t explain the low releases right through the previous week to Sunday the 9th January.  Larger pre-releases in the order of 300,000 ML/day would have maintained sufficient buffer to ensure that no flood peak occurred at all. The river would have kept on flowing at minor flooding level right through this period.

What sort of people, in Queensland of all places, in a strong La Nina wet season, would not start serious dam releases when they were already at capacity, with saturated catchments, in the first week of December? Surely, pre-releases would be more prudent than post-releases in such circumstances?

We need a full inquiry into why this dam managed by SEQ Water, and others managed by Sunwater, were managed in a way that actually produced the kind of flood it was designed to prevent.

[Update: 13/01/11 4.53pm,  The spin is on in full. Television reports are now wrongly reporting that the drop back from the temporary high release volume was instrumental in preventing a worse flood peak. This is totally inconsistent with the 36 hour time lag for water to get from the dam to the city. For the record the major shareholders of SEQ Water are Anna Bligh (Qld), Campbell Newman (BCC) & Paul Pissale (Ipswich).

Wivenhoe Dam capacity is 1,165,000 ML normal (100%) and 1,140,000 ML flood surge (197.8%). It went to 191% or 2,225,000 ML with just 80,000 ML to spare.

Somerset Dam capacity is 380,000 ML normal (100%) and 524,000 ML flood surge (238%). It went to 190% or 722,000 ML with 182,000 ML to spare.  This minimal buffer meant that only 37mm of additional rain in the 7020 KM2 catchment would have maxed the system out, giving them zero control over flows.

The original article by Williams with the same title has been rewritten for the CM archives with the volume data at the end rather than the beginning. You can still get the gist from this link.  I still have a copy of the original if anyone wants to see it. Ian Mott.

Related story

See the SEQ Water site and scroll down to the graph. Note no data for the weekend. They all took the weekend off and came back to a crisis on Monday morning.

Posted in Uncategorized | 66 Comments

A regional view of urban waste.

How regional Queenslanders are subsidising the cost of SEQ water incompetence.
A recent article in the Australian has pointed out that the full dams in South East Queensland now hold enough water to last until 2018 even if not a single drop of extra water falls until then. This means that none of the $9 billion spent on their water grid will be needed for at least a decade. And all this just as the Desalination plant has been handed over so it can supply its pathetic 44 megalitres a day that no-one needs.
But once again, the urban media just skims the surface of the issue without getting close to what is actually going on. The real story is the same old story, of urban indulgence, subsidised by regional folk who get to share the costs for something they were never going to benefit from.
At 44 megalitres a day, the desalination plant will only produce 16,000 ML a year. That is only 2/3rds of the 24,000 ML that went over the Wivenhoe spillway yesterday (11/10/10). Meanwhile, the 5% interest bill on the wasted $9 billion worth of (titter, titter) drought proofing (muuuaaahhaahaa) is $450 million a year or $1.23 million today, tomorrow and every other day. Add the $32,000 for useless desal water then divide this by the 664 megalitres SEQ actually uses each day and the interest bill alone adds $1,905 to the cost of each megalitre or $1.90 to each kilolitre. The current price paid by SEQ residents is only $1.84/KL which, in theory, covers the cost of all the existing infrastructure. This is damning evidence, if you’ll pardon the pun, that 1.5 million regional Queenslanders are subsidising the SEQ water incompetence by at least 1/3rd of the interest bill, or $150 million a year. That is $100 a year each.
And at an average of 2.7 people per household, it would cover the payments on a 22,000 litre water tank. In the remote indigenous communities that cram 8 or more people to a house while they wait for their public housing to arrive, it would cover the payments on 3 tanks. But of course, most regional folk already have a water tank but there are plenty of other uses they could spend their own share of state revenue on.
To put that another way, the 750,000 North Queenslander’s 17% share of the $9 billion debt is $1.53 billion. It might not buy much in the way of urban road tunnels but it would sure buy some impressive improvements to the Pacific Highway between Mackay and Cairns. And as far as Deputy Premier, and Health Minister, Paul Lucas’ sneering question of how a new state could possibly afford a decent hospital, he need look no further than the cost of his own mistakes.
Infact, North Queensland’s 17% share of the $450 million a year interest bill is $76.5 million. It would cover more than half of the duplicated head office costs of their new State government. And that is before the economic benefits to the regional economy are even included. North Qld’s 17% share of the $213 million of existing state government overheads is $36 million. And when this is added to the $76.5 million in interest they should not be paying we get $112m of the $213m covered before the (3.5 times) economic multiplier even kicks in.
See “The Myth of New State Duplication Costs” on this blog.
And this is all before we take a good hard look at who is paying the $865 million interest bill on the $17.3 billion worth of tunnel and bridge infrastructure that is also underway in SEQ at present. There is no evidence of a commensurate $8.6 billion being spent on regional Qld infrastructure. And the record to date on tunnels makes it clear that the SEQ motorists are definitely not covering anywhere near the total costs as well. So the shortfalls are obviously being covered by consolidated revenue. North Queensland’s 17% share of the total interest bill on these projects would be $147 million a year but their actual share of the portion covered by consolidated revenue would be less. At least the second Gateway Bridge pays most of its way so for the time being the actual subsidy on these projects by regional Queenslanders remains unknown. 
What we can say with absolute certainty is that North Queenslanders, and Central and South Western Queenslanders for that matter, would have the duplicated cost of their own Regional State Governments fully covered by funds they are already paying to subsidise SEQ infrastructure and waste. And the suggestions that they might not survive without SEQ benevolence is sounding a lot like the deliberate undermining of a battered regional self esteem by a serial metrocentric abuser.
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

How Keating Trashed Regional Economies!

And how Oakeshott, Windsor and Gillard will make it worse.
There is no doubt that former Prime Minister Paul Keating regards himself as a ‘sophisticated metrocentric’ with an eye for the ‘big picture’ and possessed of a ‘reformist vision’. And he regards the implementation of the national statutory superannuation scheme as a major economic reform and one of his proudest achievements. But like so many policies conceived and implemented by metrocentrics, this big picture vision seems to only extend to the city limits. There has been a total absence of analysis of  the impact of this policy on regional economies. Yet again, we have that ignorant assumption that what is good for the city is good for the bush.
    In reality, the concept of universal retirement savings is laudable and desireable. The theory is that any drop in consumption due to increased savings will not have an adverse economic impact because savings always equal investment and the investment outlays maintain the original volume of money in circulation. But the manner of the universal superannuation  implementation has proven to be a major and enduring disaster for many parts of regional Australia. A higher and higher portion of regional consumption expenditure has been converted to metropolitan savings and metropolitan investment. The economic truism that savings equals investment no longer applies in regional economies. The general economic theory is broken because there is no mechanism to ensure that anywhere near the regional level of savings are reinvested in those regions.
    Indeed, the very nature of the consolidation of numerous small savings into very large pools by public fund managers ensures that most smaller regional businesses have no access to those investment funds. The funds simply do not bother with investments of the smaller scale that regional businesses require.  So the only regional economies that experience any where near a balance of savings and investment are those with large listed mining or agri-business sectors.  The parts in between, and surrounding, these sectors experience a substantial reverse multiplier effect where the removal of savings produces a reduction in consumption, a reduction in profits and a further reduction in consumption each time the funds circulate within the regional economy. And the more the regional economy contracts the less favoured the region becomes in the competition for investment funds.
    And let there be no mistake as to how significant this leakage of funds really is. Wages and salaries generally make up about 50% of GDP. So when statutory super contributions were raised to 9% of salaries it resulted in a diversion of 4.5% of regional GDP to the metropolitan funds managers.  And not only did they fail to reinvest an equivalent proportion back in the regions, they proceeded to send 40% of all funds collected overseas to create jobs and stimulate economic activity there.
    The industry argument to justify this was that these funds would bring the profits back into the country and we would all be better off. But this is overly simplistic and only part of the truth. The export of these funds needed an offsetting importation of debt to avoid a reverse multiplier effect. The removal of these funds produced a shortage of funds in Australia which led to a structural increase in interest rates and a corresponding increase in foreign debt. That increased cost of capital was not as severe in metropolitan Australia because they still had access to the large pool of remaining superannuation funds. But in the regional economies that increase in cost of funds was exacerbated by the reverse multiplier effect of the diverted savings. And of course, the increased interest rates on borrowings produced a further diversion from local consumption to the metropolitan lenders.  
     This leakage of funds from regional economies also has a major impact on the quality and equity of government services to the regions. Of the average $10,000 that each state government spends on each of its citizens, about 75%, or $7500, is in the form of wages and salaries. And that means that 8.25% (9/109) of the total regional public servant wages bill never even makes it into the regional economy. On a per capita basis this 8.25% comes to $618 of the $7500 worth of wages spent on each regional resident. In the New North Wales region, with 900,000 population, this amounts to a $556 million leakage from the regional circular flow. There is a similar loss from the Cental/Southern part of NSW. The loss from North Queensland is about $463 million a year with another $309 million lost from the Hunter Valley. But the relevant state accounts continue to count this money as part of the region’s share of the revenue pie so it looks like the city is subsidising the bush. And this is only the state level public sector leakage. Add the stat super for Telstra, Australia Post and all the Bank staff, etc and we have a major structural problem.
   Extrapolations from national GDP figures to regional GDP are not entirely accurate, due in no small part, to the kind of economic leakages mentioned above. But in the absence of detailed GDP data for the regions such an extrapolation can provide a useful indicator of the scale of the problem in particular regions. If national GDP/Capita is about $55,000 then the GDP of New North Wales with population of 900,000 is a bit less than $49 billion. And if wages and salaries are 50% of this then the region’s wages amount to $24.5 billion, and 8.25% of this is statutory super contributions of $2.02 billion. There may be additional contributions from the owners of regional businesses but most of these would be into self managed funds that are less likely to be diverted outside the region.
    This $2.02 billion is leaking from the Northern NSW regional economy each year and averages out at $2,270 per person. It is safe to assume that the same per capita rate is also leaking from all other non-mining, non-treechange, regions as well. And included in those regions would be Tasmania and South Australia who do not have a proportionate funds management sector and, to date, have taken no preventative measures. 
     It is also abundantly clear that the only state government with both the means and a strong self interest in reducing this leakage would be a fully autonomous new state government representing that region.
    Any other government structure has competing metropolitan interests that currently derive considerable benefit from the current situation. There are a number of measures that could be taken to reduce the level of this leakage and retain a much larger portion of regional savings. But as they can also be seriously compromised by a reluctant metropolitan state government, these must remain unstated.
So how will Oakeshott, Windsor and Gillard make it worse?
    Well, unlike the LNP, both Labor, the Greens and these so-called “Regional Independents” have undertaken to increase the statutory superannuation contribution to 12% during this term. This would exacerbate the leakages and reverse multiplier effects on regional economies by a factor of 33%.  It would turn the $2,270 per capita leakage into a $3,025 per capita leakage. And in an average Federal electorate with a population of 146,000 people like Oakeshott’s and Windsor’s, this will amount to a permanent loss of $440 million each year from their local economies. So if Swan and Gillard are not talking about $4.4 billion each in compensation over the next decade then Oakeshott and Windsor will have sold their electorate’s soul for nothing but trinkets and badges.
Update 29/09/10
An indication of where super funds are actually invested can be seen at 
The Growth Strategy was applied to 98.4% of the NSW public service’s $28 Billion fund in 2008/9. The $26 Billion Qld fund can be seen at
Funds that were clearly not invested in regional Australia  as at 30/06/2010 included,
International Shares, NSW = 26.86%, Qld = 26%
International Fixed Interest, NSW = 4.26%,
Australian Fixed Interest, NSW = 6.06%, Qld = 12% (combined Aus & O’seas)
Cash holdings, NSW = 9.57%, Qld = 12% 
A total of, NSW = 46.75%, Qld = 50%, excluded from regional Australian investment.
The remaining NSW = 53.25%, Qld = 50%, of funds were invested in,
Australian Shares, NSW = 31.00%, Qld = 30%, (large listed companies, not small regional ones)
Property, NSW = 9.54%, Qld = 9%, (some rural holdings but mostly CBD buildings)
Alternate Assets, NSW = 12.71%, Qld = 11%, (urban infrastructure, toll roads, tunnels,power stations).
Clearly, the regional 33% of Australians get minimal on-going economic stimulus from their share of the superannuation pie.
Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

The myth of new state duplication costs

   Commonwealth Grants Commission figures make it clear that the actual scope for duplication of costs by a new state government is quite limited.  The overwhelming majority of state outlays involve no duplication because they relate directly to the delivery of a service to individuals from a local office and thereby remain the same whether that service is delivered by a large existing state or a new regional one.  
   Through the Grants Commission, the Commonwealth and the States and Territories have gone to considerable effort to determine what “Minimum Administrative Structure” is needed to deliver the core head office functions of a state, including Parliament.  They have also agreed on the cost of this function which is continually updated from year to year.  It is only this “fixed” or overhead cost of a new state government that is duplicated when a new state is formed from part of an existing one.
   Whenever the prospect of a new regional state is mentioned in a public forum it will inevitably attract the trenchant “abolish the states” comments from people who already feel grossly over governed.  Analysis of feedback reveals that most of these people do not actually live in the region that is the subject of the new state proposal and will rarely, if ever, have any need to deal with the new state entity, beyond the purchase of a fishing license while on vacation there.
   More importantly, such views are based entirely on the cost side of the ledger, with no consideration of the very significant savings that can be made when planning, direction and control functions are performed by a smaller, leaner, more focussed organisation that is just 3 hours drive from the service delivery point instead of from a very large, bloated, less focussed organisation some 1600km from the service delivery point. 
   There is even less consideration of the substantial additional benefits that can be gained by local MPs and Departmental Managers who no longer have to spend a great deal of their time outside their core area of responsibility, and discussing issues that are not even relevant to their constituents. The direct causal relationship between increased focus on relevant issues and the quality of solutions and the targeting of responses is also overlooked by the cost fetishists.  
   More importantly, the substantial economic multiplier effect as the funds spent on the new administrative structure recirculate, up to 3.5 times, through the regional economy is also ignored. The new head office operates as a key economic engine in its own right.
The 2008/2009 CGC estimate for this duplicated government administrative structure was only $213 million (see para 54 p.110). The
This figure ranges from $31 per capita in NSW, $52/capita in Qld to $640 in the ACT.  And when spread over the 900,000 people of New North Wales it would be $237/capita and for the 750,000 folks in North Queensland it would be $284/capita.  
   However, the people of any new state already carry their share of the existing state overhead cost so this would be deducted from the projected cost of the new state. So the net cost in New North Wales would be $206/capita and in North Qld it would be $232/capita.  The post secession cost in the rump states of NSW and Qld would go up by $5 and $11/capita respectively.
   Many people in regional Australia would gladly pay this amount to get a government of their own choosing just down the road.  But this is not an actual cost, it is just the target cost that a new state administration must find savings and efficiency gains to offset.  And when one considers that average state outlays are in the order of $10,000 per capita then finding savings and improvements in the other $9,800 worth of  state service delivery is not a particularly daunting task at all.
   In fact, when the $213 million in additional funds are injected into the New North Wales economy it will circulate about 3.5 times and boost local GDP by $747 million and put an average $830 into each person’s pocket.  And 15% of that, or $124/capita, will come back into the new state’s coffers in fees and taxes etc.  And this will further reduce the net duplication cost to only $82/capita.
   In North Qld the same $747 million boost to local GDP will put an average of $996 into each person’s pocket and from this amount $149 will go back into the new state’s coffers to bring the net duplication cost down to $83/capita.
   So before we even begin to look at additional savings and efficiency gains from the other 98% of government service delivery, the average new north welshman has an extra $706 in his pocket after state fees and taxes. His new state has incurred $82 in debt in his name which will need to be serviced by a $4.10 increase in per capita taxes. The North Queenslander will have an extra $847 in his pocket from which his new state will need to take $4.15 in extra fees to service his $83 share of state debt.
Of course, even if the new state government was unable to find a single additional dollar in efficiency gains, and all money currently spent on sending regional staff to capital city wonkshops, and the money spent on sending capital city bureaucrats to the regions to get up to speed on what the locals have known for years, just magically evaporates, then the new state government can simply increase fees and charges on the other $9,800 per capita in services by 0.84 of 1% and that $83 worth of per capita debt will not be borrowed in the first place.
So tell me, are the cost “wallies” looking silly yet?
   It is interesting to note that the SEQ government currently pays out $86 million a year to supply locums to regional Doctors, at more than $1,800/day and double the cost of a permanent local GP. But less than 5% of this outlay actually remains in the town where the locum worked. Apart from about $100/day in accomodation and meals, the rest goes traight back to wherever the locum came from (in some cases to New Zealand)
   This money is still classified as the regions share of the financial pie despite the fact that most of it ends up creating additional jobs everywhere but in the region. Just $62 million of this money would cover the remainder of the head office costs of a new North Qld State government, or would train an additional 172 extra medical students.
    The same is taking place in education where, instead of new schools being built by locals, demountable classrooms are built in Ipswich and trucked to the regions. The funds are counted as having been spent in the region, despite the fact that all the jobs and 95% of the additional economic circulation remains in SEQ. In fact, this sort of thing is taking place right across the state budget, and is on a scale that renders the “duplication cost” of a new government in the North completely irrelevant.
    And what is very clear is that the often suggested option of ceding health, education and law and order functions to the Commonwealth and leaving the region without a premier or parliament but with enhanced regional councils would actually exacerbate the leakage of local GDP to the metropolitan economies and speed up the decline of rural areas.
    The “abolish the states” argument is one based solely on the consideration of the raw cost of government with scant regard for the economic multiplier effects of the same government. This is an entirely understandable oversight for regional people who do not see much of this multiplier effect in action but it is impossible to ignore when observed from within the capital region.  What is clear to see is the fact that the major second and third phase circulation of state funds is restricted to about a 3 hour radius of the capital, i.e. between Noosa, Toowoomba and Byron Bay. 
   It is a damning indictment of the status quo that the second and third stage circulation of Queensland government outlays produces far more jobs in Northern NSW than it does in regional Queensland. 
And in the North Queensland context, this would enable the complete capture of the region’s proper share of GST funds and Commonwealth grants and ensure that the overwhelming majority of second and third phase economic circulation takes place between Cairns, Mackay and Hughenden. But the more state functions are handed to the Commonwealth, the less control the region has over the second and third phase economic circulation from those outlays.  
    The ideal would be for 4 regional entities in the North, three on the coast and one in the west, but the population is too small to do this yet. The federal Constitution deals only with states and such small states would produce some serious distortions in the quotas for House of Reps seats. And implementing constitutional changes to accommodate these problems would require a level of nationwide consensus that is entire orders of magnitude greater than has been achieved over the past 110 years. 
    In practical terms we are stuck with states as the vehicle of reform. But it should also be kept in mind that there is nothing to prevent any parliament of a new state from forming internal sub-regional units, under the direction of the relevant state MP’s from that sub-region, and giving them full control over the allocation of their share of each departmental budget. This would produce an even more equitable distribution of second and third phase economic circulation and reduce the risk of a single concentration of wealth around the new capital. 
    This issue of equitable second and third phase economic circulation is far more important, in both funds involved and economic impact, than the issue of mining royalties etc. In Queensland the state takes a larger portion of it’s mining profits in the form of high rail freight charges, rather than royalties. And it is also clear that Bligh will have sold off this part of the revenue base to the miners themselves long before any new state gets to divide the spoils. So making the distribution of these funds a key part of any devolution campaign will only strengthen the perception amongst southern voters that there is something there to fight over and keep.
The economic benefits of creating a completely new, dispersed, economic engine in the form of a regional State government are incontestible. The costs to the rump state are so marginal as to be statisically irrelevant while the reduced pressure on existing metropolitan congestion and lifestyle degradation is obvious.
New Regional States are an idea who’s political and economic time has come.
Ian Mott 
Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Feedback reveals why Bligh rejected new state referendum

On 11th August 2010 the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, ruled out any prospect of a referendum on the formation of a new state for North Queensland. And she did so before the request was formally put to her. This metrocentric Premier, who swore a solemn oath to “well and truly serve” all Queenslanders equally, and without fear or favour, casually and callously denied the right of more than a million Queenslanders to exercise one of the core perogatives enshrined in the UN Charter, that of self determination.
The issue broke the day before with a front page story in Brisbane’s The Courier Mail on a move by 98 of 100 North Queensland Mayors, and backed by Independent Federal Member, Bob Katter, to pursue a referendum on full regional autonomy to take place at the next round of local government elections in 2012. See related post, “Mayors call for new North QLD state”. The online version of the story produced a massive 214 responses
 before it was replaced just after mid-day by another article outlining Deputy Premier Paul Lucas’ reply which ranged from the trivial, through pathetically juvenile, to downright deceptive.
These responses provide both a valid sample size and a valuable qualitative survey. Regionalstates has analysed the responses and the results make it very clear why these centralist, urban chauvinists fear for their increasingly unsustainable status quo.  Responses came from all over Queensland with 70.5% favouring major reform. This came from 53% favouring the new state and another 27% wanting to abolish the existing state altogether. Only 16% actually opposed the new state and supported the existing arrangement, with another 9% expressing doubts over the prospects of it succeeding or disputing the viability of the new entity. Another 5% were classed as indifferent to either outcome.
New state supporters were not limited to respondents from North Queensland. There were many supporters from Brisbane who were raised in the north or had spent some time there, and many from central and western parts of the state who didn’t want to be left behind. Many of this group wanted to draw a line from Noosa, out to the range and south, and turn the SE Corner into a “city state”, so the “real Queensland” could get on with their own lives. Others just wanted to hand the SE corner back to NSW and be done with it.
Support also came in what could be described as both positive and negative perspectives with 4.5 per centage points of the supporters being SEQ residents who saw it as the way to get Daylight Saving and another 2.0 per centage points essentially saying “good riddance”.
Those who favoured the abolition of states alltogether were evenly divided between those primarily concerned with too many layers of government and those with a deep contempt for the existing centralised state structure. Most of these people have not considered the practicalities of such a complex rewriting of the federal constitution and appear to have a fixed notion of what a state is or can be. Their ideal outcome of enlarged local/regional government is only a very short distance from a small regional state that may, or may not, absorb local government functions as the ACT Territorial Government has done. It does not appear to have been pointed out to them that creating one or two new states is the easiest way to eliminate the existing one.
What this information makes very clear is the fact that Premier Bligh is not just in abrogation of her oath by denying the core rights of a minority of those she pledged to serve. The initial evidence indicates that she intends to impose a distinctly minority position on the entire community. Her refusal to even allow the community to make a judgement on a matter for which there is specific provision for in both the state and commonwealth constitutions would amount to a very serious abuse of office and the most fundamental breach of public trust.
The merits or otherwise of a new state are no longer the central issue. All Queenslanders need to know if this Premier will remain true to her oath and the constitution and allow the voters themselves to resolve an issue that is for them alone to determine.
Ian Mott 
Update: 26/08/2010
There were 136 responses to the Blainey article above and 114 of these enabled a much more detailed analysis than the responses above because  they also indicated their place of residence.  Some 22 responses were either indifferent, off topic or second responses from the same person.
Those in favour of the new state comprised of 48 (42.1%) outright supporters, (40% of whom were from SEQ, 35% from North Qld and  19% not stated). Another 18 (15.8%) were from SEQ and wanted to split the state so the south east could have daylight saving. Another 6 (5.26%) wanted to abolish states but favoured regional autonomy and another 2 (from SEQ) basically said “good riddance” for a total of 74/114 (64.9%) who supported the new state. 
Of those who rejected it, 16 (14%) wanted to abolish states altogether in favour of  enhanced local government and these could be classed as uninformed supporters who simply do not understand that a small state is the same as an enhanced local government. Some 11/16 of this group were from SEQ and inclusion of these people brought total support to 78.9%).  
Only 25 (20%) respondents could be classed as against the new state.  Of these 68% were from SEQ, 20% didn’t indicate where from and only 2 were from North Qld and 1 from out of state. 
Of the total responses, 62% were from SEQ which matches the population distribution of the current state, 17.5% were from North and Central Qld and 15% not stated.
Conclusion, support for an independent North Qld is just as strong in SEQ as it is in the north.  
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Mayors call for New North Qld State

NORTH Queensland must become a separate state now or its wealth will forever be lost to the population growth-hungry southeast corner, NQ mayors say.

They will next month ask their counterparts across the state to give them vital support for a referendum to be held on the issue at the next state election in 2012.

The idea has been floated before, but this time the mayors say they must be successful.

Just two of 100 delegates voted against the motion at a recent NQ Local Government Association meeting.

Backers including Richmond Shire Mayor John Wharton, Hinchinbrook Shire Mayor Pino Giandomenico, Mount Isa Mayor John Molony and Independent Federal MP for Kennedy Bob Katter hope for a similar reaction when they put the motion to the annual LGAQ conference next month.

“We just need a spark to ignite the fuse,” Mr Katter said.

And this front page story in the Brisbane Courier Mail has certainly ignited that fuse, with 138 comments by 12 noon (214 in total). And consistent with previous feedback whenever this issue has been raised, many respondents just wanted to give the SE Corner of the state back to NSW so the “real Queenslanders” could get on with running their own affairs. 


Update 1 10/08/2020

Both the story, and the responses to it, have an entirely different complexion on the site. Most space was given to those who spoke against the idea. Even the headline trivialised the issue with questions about a weakened Queensland loseing the state of origin football. Foremost among the sneerers was Qld Deputy Premier, (and Minister for failed health services) Paul Lucas, who could only come up with the moronic claim that Cairns and Townsville could never agree on where the capital would be.  If he had a mind capable of anything more than a simplistic, yes/no binary function, he would have realised that a new capital half way between the two would have easily solved that problem. In fact, if he had a rudimentary grasp of Australian history he would have known that this is how Sydney and Melbourne solved the same problem 110 years ago. A new capital half way between the two cities would ensure that government funds circulated beyond both cities.


It is also worth noting the high portion of out of state respondents who are blissfully ignorant of the fact that most of the additional funding that Queensland gets at the expense of the other states is to compensate Brisbane for the cost of long distance service delivery. It has not dawned on them, yet, that the cost for a regional capital to deliver the same service just up the road is substantially less.  They also seem blissfully ignorant of the substantial DISECONOMIES OF SCALE that beset the existing metropolitan  governments. 

But that is what we are dealing with here. They winge about gross urban congestion but continue to believe that bigger and bigger governments produce more efficient government service delivery.

See also

And see what Bernard Salt has to say

Update 2 11/08/2010 Bligh rules out referendum on splitting the state

This metrocentric Premier has casually deprived over a million people the right to exercise one of the key human rights enshrined in the UN Charter. And despite the fact that she swore an oath of office to “well and trully serve” all Queenslanders, not just those who elected her, neither she, nor any of the urban public, have batted an eyelid.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Hunter and the North, 1 or 2 States?

Some 43 years after the failed referendum on a new state for northern NSW we are still faced with the issue of whether to combine the NSW North with the Hunter Valley in one state.  There is no question that the two regions have a common cause against a common problem, ie, Sydney’s hedgemony, it’s narcissism, and it’s arrogant indifference to regional concerns. And there is no doubting that the folk of the Hunter Valley see themselves more as northerners than metrocentrics. But it does not follow that this common cause should be met with a single solution. The lumping of these two communities together in the proposal for the 1967 referendum has proven to be the critical error in that campaign.
The consequences of that mistake are so absolutely enormous that it is difficult to imagine what the northern region would look like if the new state boundaries in that referendum had been limited to those areas that had already indicated their overwhelming desire for the change. It must be remembered that at the time all the small hill country dairies had just been shut out of the UK market when it joined the Europeans. My Father, a Director of the Banana Growers Federation at that time, could see that the Banana industry was also in serious decline. There was more than a million hectares of land on the coastal strip, and another 2 million over the range that had already been reclaimed, after past compulsory clearing, by young native forest regrowth. And there was at least the same area again that were looking for a new industry. It was also generally agreed in farming circles that this industry was native forestry based on existing and soon to be established native forest on previously cleared land. Plantations were not favoured at the time because the old time foresters knew how to regenerate better quality native forest for much less than the cost of plantations.
In the decade after the referendum the best advice indicated that the supply of high value saw logs could not take place untill a market was found for the hundreds of smaller, bent and multi-branched trees that compete with the fewer straight stems that would eventually grow to full size and occupy the entire area of each hectare. If these bent stems were not removed then the entire forest would be locked in fierce competition for moisture, nutrients and sunlight and, like a classroom with far too many kids, would retard the growth of all of them. That essential market for the bent stems was export woodchips and the feasibility studies recommended a deep water port on the Clarence. This was the very deepwater port that many claimed was essential for a new state, and was the justification for including Newcastle within the new state boundaries.
The numbers at stake were enormous. The conservative estimates of forest growth rates on the coastal strip were from 1 to 5 tonnes/hectare with from 0.5 to 1 tonne/ha over the dividing range. More than half of this growth was in useless bent stems that needed to be culled. The existing private forests had over 100 million tonnes of standing wood with more than 60 million of that needing to be removed over the next 20 years to maximise the growth of the remaining trees. The total volume available for export from new and existing private forests, and from limited state forest harvesting was in the order of 6 million tonnes per annum worth $900 million a year today. On the standard economic multipliers this would have circulated within the region to add $2.7 billion to annual GDP and maintain more than 27,000 additional jobs. A National Party government in the new state would also have had a clear mandate for further value adding through the addition of a pulp mill and on to a full paper mill. If this had diverted just 1 million tonnes to base newsprint at $1150/tonne it would have added another $1billion to the value chain and $3 billion to state GDP and maintained another 30,000 regional jobs.
The existing population of the northern region is about 900,000 which would indicate a GDP of $45 billion. Add just the $5.7 billion lost from Wrans decision and the state GDP would be $50.7 billion, of which 15%, or $7.6 billion would go into state revenue. Some 20% of this amount would cover the regions portion of Sydney head office expenditure which would not re-circulate back to the northern region. But if the new state had gone ahead this $1.5 billion would have been added to the northern regional economy where it would have circulated another 3 times to add another $4.5 billion to the new states GDP, and another 45,000 jobs. The total additional jobs would have been at least 102,000 which would have meant a population increase of 205,000. And most of that population increase would have been diverted from the western suburbs of Sydney, where congestion would not be as bad and house prices would now be more affordable.
A similar population transfer from the 3 or 4 potential new states in NSW would have had a major impact on the growth rate of Sydney and on the capacity of that city state to respond appropriately to the more sustainable rate of change.  
However, it is now a matter of record that the outgoing Askin Coalition Government of 1975 delayed the approval of the project out of fear of a green/left metropolitan electoral backlash. And he did this safe in the knowledge that all the northern electorates with most at stake would continue to vote for the Country Party that delivered him government in the first place. The greens waged a furious campaign on the false claim that “old growth forest” would be decimated despite the fact that less than 3% of the private forest estate was found to be old growth. They also implied the moronic assumption that trees, particularly young ones, do not regrow or coppice after harvesting. The government already had full control over what was done in the state forests. And just 9 years after the referendum failed, one of the first things Neville Wran did as the new Labor Premier was reject the project altogether. 
This destroyed the last, best, chance for regional agriculture. Instead of 2 million hectares of improved native habitat, and another 2 million hectares of new native habitat, all on private land, we were left with entire landcapes choked with woody weeds as the urban born “alternates” moved in to exploit the depressed land prices as farming families moved out. Some 35 years later the thick Lantana on my place, and farms all over the region, is still preventing trees from regenerating on the old Banana land that we had planned to restore to the original wet forest mosaic. Without a market for what we would grow, there is no justification for the expense of removing the impediment. Governments have blown $millions on tokenistic landcare stunts, all the while lamenting the fact that farmers “don’t have a farm forestry culture”.  They have since declared that the cutting of a single tree, by a farmer who might have regenerated 100,000 trees, constitutes “broadscale clearing” and is a serious crime. The fact is, we always had a farm forestry culture and most of us still do. But we will never trust an urban Green/Labor government, or the people who elect them, ever again.  
My children, and their children, had a right to inherit the splendid multi species native forest, and to enjoy the profits from a continuous cycle of partial harvests, that should now be present on all my degraded Lantana land. It was the Labor voters of the Hunter Valley that gave Neville Wran the opportunity to deny them that birth right. Our community also had a right to elect a government of their choosing, to govern over a state of their choosing. But in the 34 years since Wran came to power we have had 27 years of urban Labor and 7 years of urban liberals. So it is through this historical prism that farmers all over the NSW North view the need for reform and the prospect of a new state. And it is one thing to look at how Hunter Valley residents perceive themselves as part of the northern region but we also need to look at how they have, and will continue to vote. It is the proverbial Guerilla in the room.
The federal seats (latest boundaries, 2007 results) that cover the two regions reveal some interesting aspects. There are 5 seats on the coast, 2 inland, and 4 in the Hunter. The population of each electorate is not available but at the national average population per seat of 146,000 people (22 million/150 seats), the combined area would have 1.6 million people. That would appear to be 700,000 coastal, 300,000 inland and 600,000 in the Hunter.
The federal electorates are;
Richmond (90,100 voters,  ALP 55%)
Page (93,400 voters,  ALP 55%)
Cowper (92,760 voters, National 55%)
Lyne (86,800 voters, Independent/Nat 55%)
New England (91,370 voters, Independent 65%)
Parkes (89,770 voters, National 60%+)
Newcastle (93,400 voters, ALP 66%)
Hunter (90,200 voters, ALP 66%)
Charlton (91,100 voters, ALP 66%)
Shortland (93,170 voters, ALP 66%)
The state electorates provide a more detailed picture but only with 2001 census data. They are;
North Coast, (8 State seats, avg pop 64,570, 5 current Federal MPs)
Tweed, (voters 47,416, population 60,887, 2pp vote 54.0% ALP)
Ballina, (voters 47,246, population 65,416, 2pp vote 59.4% LNP)
Lismore, (voters 47,410, population 69,792, 2pp vote 58.1% LNP)
Clarence, (voters 48,074, population 67,722, 2pp vote 55.3% LNP)
Coffs Harbour, (voters 48,330, population 66,259, 2pp vote 61.9% LNP)
Oxley, (voters 47,116, population 64,330, 2pp vote 59.9% LNP)
Port Macquarie, (voters 47,595, population 59,154, 2pp vote 67.0% IND/LNP)
Myall Lakes, (voters 49,063, population 63,004, 2pp vote 63.9% LNP) 
Population Subtotal 516,564
Inland (4 State seats, avg pop 70,802, 2 current Federal MPs)
Northern Tablelands, (voters 48,890, population 71,121, 2pp vote 63.1% IND)
Tamworth, (voters 48,457, population 67,100, 2pp vote 69.2% IND)
Barwon, (voters 48,049, population 77,038, 2pp vote 64.6% LNP)
Upper Hunter, (voters 48,369, population 67,952, 2pp vote 57.2% LNP)
Population Subtotal 283,210
The New Northern State population of 799,794 would have 7 Federal MPs and 3.5 Senators
(0.5 Senator = 3year term).
 Hunter Valley (8 State seats, avg pop 62,706, 4 current Federal MPs)

Port Stephens, (voters 48,371, population 61,337, 2pp vote 57.2% ALP)

Maitland, (voters 48,357, population 60,526, 2pp vote 60.3% ALP)

Wallsend, (voters 47,350, population 63,108, 2pp vote 69.8% ALP)

Newcastle, (voters 48,120, population 63,167, 2pp vote 65.0% ALP)

Charlestown, (voters 48,175, population 61,015, 2pp vote 63.3% ALP)

Swansea, (voters 49,247, population 61,923, 2pp vote 67.1% ALP)

Lake Macquarie, (voters 48,202, population 64,512, 2pp vote 61.6% ALP)

Cessnock, (voters 48,960, population 66,061, 2pp vote 69.1% ALP)

The New Hunter Valley State population of 501,649 would have 4 Federal MPs and 2 Senators.
Two thirds of voters in the 8 Hunter Valley seats vote Labor, and have done so without fail in every election of the past century. The Northern seats display more plurality, with 1 Labor, 3 Independent and 8 Liberal/National State seats. The choice of government by the two communities is directly at variance with each other. Neither major party could form a majority government in a single state, the ALP with 9 seats, the LNP with 8. Both parties would be reliant on independents to form inherently unstable governments. Neither party would ever have a clear mandate in a dysfunctional unit that could never hope to satisfy either community. And both would have every reason to ask; “whats in it for us”? 
The momentum to establish the state capital in Newcastle would be insurmountable. The $750 million in extra GDP generated by the state head office overheads would not re-circulate any further north than Kempsey and Tamworth and the southern population would soon become dominant. A full third of the northern population would simply replace a nine hour drive to an urban/industrial government in Sydney with a seven hour drive to an urban/industrial government in Newcastle. For them, nothing would change from the past 43 years since the 1967 referendum.
Compounding the obvious socio-political dimension is the simple fact that the voters of the Hunter Valley are completely insulated from any adverse economic consequences of any decisions they might make in respect of the northern economy. Their mining and industrial base is not dependent in any way on the economic wellbeing of the north. Their elected representatives would be free to indulge in a repeat of the very worst kind of “cheap thrill politics” that impose burdens, costs and losses on the northern community without commensurate impacts on their own community. This is just as Sydney has done for more than half a century.
These two elements combined would replicate the existing disproportionate development pattern. A shift in development concentration just hours up the road does not constitute real decentralisation. It merely enlarges the existing unsustainable capital sprawl under two entities, not one. And it would do so in a forced marriage of two incompatible partners.
The key conclusion is that both communities have the right to expect to form the governments of their own choosing. The Hunter Valley is a discrete geographical unit that is absolutely clear on the political character of the government they want. And a well devised state structure should be capable of delivering exactly that. In 1967 they rejected a state model that would have left them as a permanent minority vote, with minimal chance for their elected representatives to form government. The same condition is less obvious in the North where the geographic spread of the political divide is nowhere near as marked. But their desire for a government that reflects their own values and interests is no less legitimate. And a structure that is capable of consistently delivering exactly that is no less essential.
The common cause of full regional autonomy does not demand a common response. Both regions have sufficient population and economic momentum to justify full Statehood in their own right. Both regions can best satisfy the legitimate expectations of their own communities with their own state within the commonwealth. The creation of a larger state may serve to meet the rest of Australia’s pre-conceived notions of what a state should look like. But the rest of australia already have their own states and their perceptions have no bearing or legitimacy here. If the state serves the interests of the voters of that state then that is the only perception that counts. If the people are here to serve the state then the bigger the state the better. But if the state is here to serve the people then the size that bests serves the people’s expectations must take precedence.
 Ian Mott 4th August, 2010
 Update 22/09/2010
More recent information from the Commonwealth Grants Commission indicates that the 20% government overheads figure used above is considerably over stated. The actual overhead figure for a Minimum Administrative Structure for a state is $213.5 million in 2008/9.  See “The myth of new state duplication costs” on this blog.
Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments