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Last Updated: Monday, 29 January 2007, 05:31 GMT
Queensland to drink waste water

Australian farmer Marshall Rodda with some of his parched land
Australia's drought is the worst on record
People in the Australian state of Queensland will soon have to start drinking water containing recycled sewage, the state premier has warned.

Premier Peter Beattie said he had scrapped a referendum on the issue, because there was no longer a choice.

He also warned other Australian states might eventually have to do the same because of mounting water shortages.

Water is already recycled in places like Singapore and the UK, but the idea is still unpopular in Australia.

But the country is currently suffering from a severe drought - the worst on record. Last week Prime Minister John Howard declared water security to be the biggest challenge currently facing Australia, and he announced a A$10bn ($7.7bn; 3.9bn) package to tackle the problem.

Mr Beattie said that falling water levels had left his state administration with no option but to introduce recycled water in south-eastern Queensland, starting from next year.

"We're not getting rain; we've got no choice," he told ABC radio.

"These are ugly decisions, but you either drink water or you die. There's no choice. It's liquid gold, it's a matter of life and death," he said.

map of queensland
Mr Howard supported Mr Beattie's comments, telling a Sydney radio station: "I've advocated recycling for a long time... I am very strongly in favour of recycling, and Mr Beattie is right."

But Mike Rann, the premier of South Australia, and Morris Iemma, the premier of New South Wales, rejected the Queensland plan - with Mr Rann ruling out using recycled sewage for anything but irrigation.

Malcolm Turnbull, the new environment and water resources minister, asked other states to be more open-minded on the issue.

"Don't rule out desalination because it is expensive, or recycling because it sounds yucky, or building a dam," Mr Turnbull told Australian media.

"Put everything on the table, assess all the economic, environmental and financial costs and then make a decision."

River row

Ahead of an election next year, Mr Howard and his federal administration are eager to be seen to be tackling environmental problems.

Mr Howard announced last week that the federal government wanted to take over the Murray-Darling river system - the country's most precious water resource, which provides supplies for most of Australia's irrigated farm land.

The controversial plan would be the biggest reform of water management in the country's history.

The four state governments which manage it are currently controlled by the opposition Labor party, which has argued that the new proposals represent an unacceptable power grab by the prime minister.

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