Water Commodification

Today, Abigail used her Adjournment Speech to speak out against the commodification of our drinking water.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (23:06:52): Water is the new oil. For well over a decade, big business has been buying up water all over the world. Whether it is the global banks or wealthy tycoons, those following the money saw the writing on the wall and purchased thousands of acres of land for its aquifers and lakes. They have invested in water rights, water utilities, and water engineering and technology companies. During the same period governments have restricted citizens' free access to water. Water is fast becoming the hottest commodity since petroleum. Let us stop and think about that. How much more of our lives can be commodified and turned into a profit-making resource? We live in a society where many people are already going without their basic needs being met, such as shelter or daily food.

Everyday activities like getting around on public transport or accessing a public toilet are becoming increasingly expensive and beyond the reach of many. Our governments are obsessed with the nebulous concept of economic growth and pay no regard to who benefits from that growth or whether it makes any material improvement to most people's lives. There has never been a clearer example of the dangers of late‑stage capitalism than the commodification of water. Capitalist economies like ours and the global financial system that serves it are designed to rely on perpetual economic growth. Ultimately, economic growth can only be achieved through producing more and more goods and services.

In a world with finite resources and finite demand, the economic model forces society to give up the things that used to be free and turns them into saleable products. The impact on both the environment and people's wellbeing obviously suffers as a result; hence, the commodification of water. Whether it is the disastrous mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin, which lined the pockets of big landowners and agribusiness, or the gifting of megalitres of water to mining companies that threaten the water quality of whole catchment areas, rights to water have been gradually taken away from citizens and turned over to profit-making corporations in service to a concept of economic growth that does not take into account growth in wellbeing, productivity and contribution, the preservation of our environment or our long-term future.

Another way to talk about this commodification and privatisation of our everyday lives is through the erosion of the commons. The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water and a habitable environment. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. All can access them without payment. Neoliberalism has waged war on this idea of the commons, with almost every aspect of our lives now subject to private ownership. Community spaces are dwindling, public recreation areas are being sold off or enclosed for profit and we are paying for access to roads and other ostensibly public infrastructure. Books and songs previously in the public domain are being re‑copyrighted and even the image of the Aboriginal flag has been controversially claimed as the property of a T‑shirt company.

We are no longer able to even freely look at things without someone making money out of it. You can barely glance at national icons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Opera House these days without being forced to look at a commercial advertisement of some sort or other. And now here we are in an era of growing awareness about the complexities of climate and the value of protecting our common resources and we have sold off our water—the very thing that none of us can live without. The commodification and corporatisation of our society has gone too far. It is time to reclaim the commons.

We need to take back our natural and cultural places and declare them to be off limits to profit‑seeking interests. We must ensure public access to commercial spaces, to place limits on the amount of advertising that can be stuck to our physical environment and to legislate to recognise that new advances in science and technology are built on the back of prior gains by society and should be easily shared back to that society. Water should never have become a commodity, as a plaything for profit seekers. It is a precious part of our commons and must be managed to benefit all of us in society, not just those who can afford it.

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