A critical time for basin plan

By Country News

Anyone who has picked up the local newspaper, switched on the radio or checked their social media recently may have come across speculation about the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

It is a critical time in the implementation of the plan, with the MDBA recently finalising several important pieces of work, including recommendations that were tabled in Federal Parliament to improve the plan’s outcomes.

The Senate is due to debate the future water recovery target in the southern basin soon.

Support for the amendment would allow 605Gl more water for production and improve outcomes for the river environment through state-led projects.

Support would also mean no more gap-bridging water recovery will be needed in the southern basin.

These state-led projects go hand-in-hand with a commitment by basin governments to further modernise water infrastructure to deliver up to 450Gl of additional water for the health of the river system, without negative social and economic impacts.

This is one element among many in the MDBA’s work program to implement the basin plan fully and effectively, in a way that maximises the outcomes for all stakeholders.

For several years, the MDBA has been working hard to ensure that once the water recovery target is met, we are ready to assess the progress of state government projects and compliance functions, monitor the impacts on communities and industries, and track and improve environmental outcomes.

An essential part of our work is devoted to rebuilding community confidence that all those who should comply with the basin plan are complying.

Since we delivered our Compliance Review to the Prime Minister last November, we have established an Independent Assurance Committee and an Office of Compliance, increased transparency and accountability in the development and accreditation of water resource plans, signed a memorandum of understanding with NSW’s Natural Resources Access Regulator, and strengthened processes and governance arrangements to ensure we are more transparent, assertive and consistent in how we handle allegations of non-compliance.

Our commitment has been matched by the highly visible and concentrated effort on the part of basin state governments to build the integrity of their processes and enforcement practices.

For example, the NSW Government is currently consulting with communities on a range of measures including increased metering, improved transparency, better protection of environmental water and measurement of flood plain harvesting.

All basin ministers have endorsed the development of a Basin Compliance Compact, where each jurisdiction will set out its plans to improve compliance and enforcement activities. There is more to do but we are on the right path.

Another reason community attention has been drawn to the basin plan is the several inquiries currently running in parallel — a House of Representatives inquiry into environmental water, the South Australian royal commission and the scheduled five-year review of the basin plan by the Productivity Commission, which visited northern Victoria last month.

These actions are in their own way important checks and balances.

They come on the back of our own evaluation of the first five years of basin plan implementation, which found that while there are areas that need greater focus, we’re on track.

A reform of the size and scale of the basin plan needs a sustained commitment from everyone, farming communities and governments alike, to stay the course.

I recognise that implementing the basin plan is not without its challenges, but it remains the nation’s best pathway for securing the future of this vital shared resource.

The basin plan is a visionary and long-term policy to sustain the Murray-Darling Basin’s environment, industries and communities — and it is working.

I encourage all parties, now more than ever, to work together in good faith towards a sustainable future for the Murray-Darling Basin.