On Friday I was in Canberra giving evidence to the Senate Inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin. I had flown up with a very simple message – conduct a full comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority plan. While there have been numerous impact studies and research and what-not undertaken already, and more being planned to be undertaken, the fact remains that a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis has not been undertaken.
Anyway, I was asked by the ALP Senator on the panel why the buy-back market hadn’t performed as well as might have been expected. Now we need to bear in mind that this is a new market – with any new market there are going to be teething problems. At the some time people are unsure as to what their property rights are and how those rights will evolve over time. There have also been lots of stories about speculators and market manipulation and so on. Anyway, the ALP senator fixed on the property rights issue, asking why that may be an issue given that the parliament had passed laws and that there were constitutional conventions and protections and so on to secure property rights.
The answer to this question is that rules change. That we can’t trust politicians. I made that point quoting, from memory, H.L Mencken that no man’s property is safe while the Congress, or in our case, the parliament is in session. It turns out, I was completely wrong. It was Mark Twain who said:
No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
Now to be clear, this is not a criticism of our current crop of politicians – this is a cost of democracy that must be traded off against the (far more valuable) benefits of democracy.