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Toowoomba - The Politics of Recycling Water

Video clip synopsis – The majority opinion is entitled to respect - in 2007, the referendum to use recycled in Toowoomba is defeated.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 4min 28sec
Tags - Australian landscape, conservation, drought, environment, Learning Journey Water, natural resources, politics, preservation, sustainability, technology, water, see all tags


Toowoomba - The Politics of Recycling Water

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About the Video Clip


Talkback Classroom is a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. Each year a series of forums are held. At each forum a panel of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia-wide, interview a leading decision-maker on an important current matter. The panel participate in a ‘learning journey’ to explore the matter and prepare for the forum. This involves researching related topics and interviewing relevant people in the community. Panellists also develop interview techniques in workshops at Parliament House and the National Museum of Australia. The interviews are then recorded in the Museum’s Studio in front of a live student audience.

This clip comes from the 2007 learning journey for the ‘Water Crisis’ forum. The guest interviewed in the forum was the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, former Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. The panellists were QLD Year 11 students Jane Cairns and Oscar Schlamowitz from Brisbane State High School and Emma Buckley-Lennox from Indooroopilly State High School. The learning journey involved students visiting Jondaryan in Queensland and interviewing the Mayor of Jondaryan Shire, Peter Taylor and Ian McHugh, Director of Planning and Development at Jondaryan Shire Council. The students also interviewed Dianne Thorley the Mayor of Toowoomba. Whilst in Brisbane, the panellists met with Larissa Waters, member of the Queensland Greens, The Hon. Rod Welford MP, QLD minister for Education, Training and the Arts, Dr Brian Crozier, curator Queensland Museum and John Cherry, president of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation.

Background Information


Australia has a history of drought and variable rainfall; some parts of the country are currently experiencing a major water crisis. This, coupled with global climate change and drought, presents a serious challenge to the Australian people and government. Southern areas of Australia are running out of fresh water supplies. Increases in population, drought-induced crop failures and salinity are all contributing to the water crisis in Australia. Water resources, such as river systems, underground aquifers and water storage facilities (from dams to water tanks) have historically been managed by the state governments in Australia, despite the fact that many of these resources are used by more than one state. The uncoordinated approach of the states to water management has resulted in many unhealthy river systems, for example the Murray-Darling river system. The poor health of this system is due to water users upstream being allocated more water entitlements than is being replaced through rainfall and replenishment from underground water sources. As well as the poor health of many river systems and the shrinking levels in water storage facilities, the increasing population in Australia is placing pressure on water availability. South-eastern Queensland and particularly the town of Toowoomba is a prime example of an area that is experiencing problems with water supply. This situation is forcing the community to weigh up options: desalination, recycling water or piping in water from other areas are some of the possible solutions.

Classroom Activities


Before you watch

Investigate the technology involved in recycling effluent for drinking purposes. Once you have gathered some information regarding this technology, attempt to answer these questions:

  1. How safe is drinking recycled water?
  2. How cost-effective is the process?
  3. What exactly is removed from the water and how is it removed?
  4. How much energy is consumed in the process? What is the ‘carbon footprint’ of the process?
  5. What is the cost of setting up a water recycling plant? How much land is needed and how many jobs might be created in establishing a water recycling plant?

While you watch

The panellists and former minister Malcolm Turnbull discuss the referendum on recycled water held in Toowoomba in Queensland. Emma Jane Buckley presents a poster that was created by the ‘no’ lobby in Toowoomba. Listen carefully to what the panellists and the minister say in regard to the Toowoomba referendum, then try this activity later on:

Your town or suburb is going to hold a referendum on drinking recycled water. Design and create posters for the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ lobbies. Your posters will need to be powerful enough to persuade people on either result. Carefully consider the use of graphics, font, text and colour. Make the posters the same size so that there’s no advantage in one being bigger than the other. Display your class posters and discuss the various approaches used in creating them.

After you watch

Dianne Thorley, the mayor of Toowoomba, is a passionate supporter of the water recycling proposal. Imagine that you are her and you need to write a speech to present to concerned citizens at a town meeting. Your speech will need to convince the townspeople that the recycled water scheme is safe and effective. You may like to research speech writing and some famous speeches from history e.g. Winston Churchill’s Battle of Britain speech of 1940, Paul Keating’s Redfern speech of 1992, Sir Edmund Barton’s Federation speech of 1901 and Martin Luther King’s Washington speech of 1963. Examine how body language can add to the effectiveness of a speech and identify the ways in which your voice can make a speech more powerful.

Once you and others in your class have written and rehearsed your speeches, take turns at presenting them to the rest of the class (make them no longer than three minutes). Discuss each speech after it’s been presented and examine how effective it was and if it had the right ‘messages’. Videotape the speeches if possible and watch them later. Look at body language and analyse how the speakers used their voices.

Further Resources


National Museum of Australia’s Talkback Classroom website

CSIRO: Water