MDBA chief speaks on criticism, trust

By Country News

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde visited the Goulburn Valley last week, and Country News editor GEOFF ADAMS took the opportunity to ask a series of questions.

Country News: Are you walking into a ‘lion’s den’ when you come to the Goulburn Valley to talk about water?

Mr Glyde: I am relentlessly optimistic.

I acknowledge that anything with water is hugely controversial. Water in the Murray-Darling Basin is the backbone of about $20billion of agricultural production and also the home of internationally recognised wetlands and any number of endangered species.

I expect everywhere I go to be challenged from one side or another as our role is to be umpire in trying to find out what is going to be an ongoing level that will keep environments alive and keep communities thriving.

In finding the middle ground you are bound to be shot at from all sides.

Country News: The RMCG report (commissioned by the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Group) came under criticism from the authority.

Mr Glyde: I was not critical of the report, we welcomed the contribution. There are assumptions made in both RMCG and our report which are different.

I would like to think we had more time than RMCG did; we have been able to be a bit more thorough and done it in a different way. We are trying to determine what the impacts on the basin have been.

The basin plan was always going to have an economic impact. You don’t take 20 per cent of the water or ‘the gold’ out of the game without having some impact.

We are trying to find a way that the adjustment going on in the irrigated agriculture economy is as economically and socially neutral as possible. At the end of the day there are job losses as a result of the basin plan.

Country News: Is your report better than the RMCG report?

Mr Glyde: I would like to think we had more money and time. More accurate ... It is good to see significant contributions to the debate being made outside of the MDBA. We welcome the debate.

At the end of the day we have to find a way through this. Having as much information as we can is helpful.

One of the key differences to our report and the RMCG report is that we have looked at a community level across 40 places. That’s really critical, because most people don’t see the basin as a whole but they experience the basin, the river in their patch. They want to know what’s happening in their community. The communities are at different stages of their economic health.

They have different water recovery patterns, different nature of water recovery, different trade impacts and the communities are at different stages of economic health.

A community may not have lost much water, but if it is already fragile through other changes like farm mechanisation, commodity price changes, the drought has hit them particularly hard or in an industry under pressure like the dairy industry at the moment. That has a different impact to a community that is larger and resilient and with other businesses.

The contribution I would like to think we have made is to give a finer level of detail based on the most recent census information.

Country News: Is there a problem with trust in the authority?

Mr Glyde: It’s a critical issue if either people don’t trust the basin plan or the authority in its administration, then why would they continue to support the plan?

We do our best to behave in a trustworthy manner to provide the information that we can. In a contested space people will from time to time criticise the umpire, the referee, and we have to continue to maintain the community’s trust in the work we do.

I don’t mind people criticising the authority when we get it wrong, but I do mind when they are just using it as part of their argument to support one side or other of the debate.

We try to be as transparent in our work as we can. I acknowledge there is always more work we can do to build trust.

Country News: Do you have anything to fear from your organisation appearing before the South Australian Royal Commission?

Mr Glyde: I can’t comment on the South Australian Royal Commission. The Federal Government has referred the attendance of the MDBA and other Commonwealth officials to the High Court so I am not in a position to comment one way or the other.