As chief executive of the Murray-Daring Basin Authority, I strongly reject some of the key criticisms contained in the final report of the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin.
The full 756 pages of the report will take some time to read and fully digest. The MDBA will respond to the report and its recommendations comprehensively.
But Commissioner Bret Walker has made it clear he believes the MDBA is guilty of maladministration and of acting unlawfully.
On behalf of the MDBA, I reject those conclusions in the strongest possible terms. We haven’t broken the law.
The accusations in relation to acting unlawfully appear to stem from a difference in opinion about the policy intent of this critically important water reform.
The commissioner has one view and the Commonwealth has another. The Commonwealth legal advice that the MDBA took in 2012, and which remains current, is that the 2007 Water Act and the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan are both legal and constitutional.
From an initial reading of the commission’s findings and recommendations, some of the most interesting aspects are what is not mentioned.
There are no findings of direct misconduct or illegality directed at any single person. If anyone has any information, I urge them to contact authorities, or the Public Service Commissioner.
As a result I believe that to bring into question the work of the authority and its staff on this basis cannot be justified.
And while the commissioner has called for an overhaul of the plan and its environmental targets, he does not call for the plan to be abandoned.
The findings of maladministration relate to the work of the authority in setting Sustainable Diversion Limits, that is the amount of water that may be used by communities and agriculture.
Those decisions were made at the time the basin plan was legislated and received bipartisan support and the support of five state and territory governments. The figures were based on best available science and scientific advice.
In the three years I’ve been in this job I haven’t met anyone who actually likes the plan in its entirety. Every side of the basin water debate has had to make compromises and sacrifices, and every aspect of the plan remains the subject of vigorous debate, just as it was when the plan was being developed.
One point of agreement stands out. Nobody wants to go back to where we were prior to 2012. We all agree that we need a plan.
The royal commission accuses the MDBA of ignoring climate change, and of dismissing climate advice from the CSIRO.
Again, I reject that accusation. The MDBA has always considered the impacts of climate change, and has been guided by the best possible advice from the CSIRO.
As the basin plan was being developed, the MDBA used climate data going back 112 years, which covered the full range of the climate changes modelled by the CSIRO.
We are halfway into implementing the plan. We can’t overturn the impacts of 100 years of water overuse in a few short years.
Murray-Darling Basin Authority
How do we influence public debate on water?
The report to the South Australian Government on the Murray-Darling Basin must be read, at least in part, by all people who claim to have an interest in the future of this region’s irrigation industries.
This commissioner is unaware of any convincing economic or other water research which justifies the assertion that there have been negative socio-economic outcomes in basin communities as a result of Murray-Darling Basin water recovery.
Chapter 9, which gives the evidence for this claim, contains the issues that determine many voters’ opinions. Without compelling counter argument that leaves no doubt in the minds of people outside this region, our future is in real jeopardy.
The report states the proposed 450Gl ‘up-water’ is for ‘‘outcomes of ecological importance in SA, in particular the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and the Murray mouth’’.
Realistic jibes about 1000Gl annually evaporating off the Lower Lakes, 950Gl flowing out to sea, the folly of maintaining the Lower Lakes as a freshwater body with barrages at 0.4m above sea level, and the fact that the system is an estuary that starts at Wellington, continue to be regarded as irrelevant.
Perhaps our future goal should be shaping the ‘‘hearts and minds’’ of the nation’s people. Too many seem to have a very jaundiced view of irrigation industries and have difficulty understanding technical realities that determine the most effective use of the basin’s water.
How can this be done?
We must take action to save the planet
As we cower under the record heat conditions, drought over vast areas of the country, massive fish deaths in the Darling River, floods in Queensland and wildfire raging in Tasmanian wilderness areas — scenarios in accord with long-standing climate change impacts — nearly all of us acknowledge that we must act now to save our planet.
While there are still a few climate sceptics remaining in politics, the time has well passed to dump them and move on.
We all must do more, no matter how minute, to combat climate change impacts.
We must make it the number one priority to question — what we do personally, in our workplaces and in organisations we are involved with — our actions and the impact they have on the planet.
Some of us live really frugal and low-impact lives. Unfortunately our overall wealth has led us to extremely high CO2 emission per capita (nearly the highest in the world).
It’s time to question the way we live.
Why do nearly one million Australians go to Bali annually? Is it necessary to be married on the Amalfi coast or for that matter some remote Pacific island rather than in your backyard? Maybe the plan to fly to the Maldives for a cup of real coffee should be reconsidered.
We are all challenged by this wicked problem but must take action now. To quote Winston Churchill: ‘‘You cannot reason with a tiger when you have your head in its mouth’’.
We are extremely close to relinquishing our capacity to reason with this unassailable foe unless we change our mindset and forfeit things we don’t really need now.