July 27, 2006 | Graham

Classic Beattie gambit

Peter Beattie’s “threat” to hold an election on recycling sewage for drinking water is a classic Beattie gambit. Take a problem for which you are responsible, or at least share the guilt, pick an aspect of the issue that your opponents can’t or won’t deal with, announce yourself as the only person who can fix the problem and then run to the election on your solution.
It’s a variation on the strategy that Beattie used in 2001 when he took on his own party over the corruption the Shepherdson Inquiry found in the ALP. Logic would suggest that the Opposition should have been the beneficiary of the corruption. If you wanted to punish the ALP you would normally do it by voting against them. Instead voters returned them with a larger margin. Why? Because Beattie convinced Queenslanders that he was the only one that could fix the problem. As a result not only did he receive a larger mandate but those who he cast out of the party went not so much into the wilderness, but into a cosy symbiotic relationship peddling influence with the now even more powerful government. It’s what the management gurus call a “win win” solution.
The sewage recycling issue is similar. In this case the problem is not internal ALP corruption, but Labor’s 17 year failure to deliver the services to south-east Queensland that it needs to sustain its current population. In the 21 years since the Wivenhoe Dam was constructed south-east Queensland’s population has grown by approximately 70%, but water supply hasn’t grown at all. Indeed, one of the first things that Labor did when it won power in 1989 was to cancel the Wolfdene Dam, a dam, which if it had been built would have done relatively well out of last season’s wet because it’s catchment would have been in the right place.
Worse, if there is no significant rain this summer, and by significant I mean at least one cyclone or severe rain depression that penetrates down to Brisbane, none of the “solutions” that Beattie has put in place will be implemented in time. The desalination plant is behind schedule and the dams that Beattie has just announced won’t be completed until 2010 or later, and his idea of a pipeline from the Burdekin is scheduled for sometime later this century or early next!
It is highly likely that sometime in the next two to three years the state government will have to start shutting-off water to industry to ensure that citizens have enough to drink. There’s the pub with no beer, but in Brisbane’s case it could well be the town with no breweries!
Recycling sewage for drinking offers Beattie a way out. While he’s previously ruled it out, over the last weekend, after meeting with Michael Gorbachev and Malcolm Turnbull he appears to have had a Damascus Road conversion. It’s a conversion that is going to be very difficult for the Coalition to share because they have opportunistically opposed a decision by the Toowoomba City Council to solve their own water crisis by doing this very same thing. They’re even campaigning against the policy in the referendum that Toowoomba is holding at the moment despite the fact their federal colleagues are supporting it.
Indeed, it’s likely that Beattie knows what the polling says in Toowoomba, thinks the referendum will get up, giving him a guide to what would happen in a Queensland-wide election, and has made his U-turn now so as to lock the Opposition into their position. They can’t change their mind until Sunday morning, at the earliest.
When Beattie raises the issue in an election context the Opposition will likely say that people should vote against him because the water crisis is all his fault. I agree -it is all his fault. However, Beattie will likely respond that it is all to do with climate change and the “worst drought in 100 years” (I’d like to see the rainfall figures to prove the last assertion) and if you vote for the Opposition then you are condemning yourself to dying of thirst!
Faced with those alternatives I know what I would do.
You’ve got to hand it to Peter. He’s a master tactician. Pity he appears to be unable to organise anything as simple as a p*ss-up in a brewery, or at the least the water needed for one.

Posted by Graham at 12:32 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I grew up in Rotterdam, and water then is already recycled about 7 times!
    it didn’t kill me1

    Comment by G. H. Schorel-Hlavka — July 27, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

  2. The Beattie government reminds me of the stereotypical movie scene of the locomotive hurtling towards the high bridge which has just been blown up by the bad guys (in the case of the Beattie government this is themselves).
    We the viewers can see from a long way off the impending tragedy, but do we do anything about it?
    Find out next week….

    Comment by R — July 31, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

  3. I’ll be just glad to see this lier and crook voted out of office and if he is we will just see what state the smart state is in BROKE…..

    Comment by robynne morton — August 18, 2006 @ 12:34 pm

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