Walker delivers verdict

By Country News

MDBA secrecy

‘‘Almost as dangerously, the habitual behaviour of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and to a lesser but alarming extent the CSIRO, is marked by an unfathomable predilection for secrecy.

‘‘That is the bane of good science — and an obstacle to the democratic and informed design and improvement of public policy that must be based on science.

‘‘A sea change is required to remove this aspect of the general constraints on beneficial change.’’

Importance of agriculture

‘‘The massive importance of irrigated agriculture in the basin is hard to overstate. It lends itself to economic statistics, but at heart it is a question of people, as workers, families and in society.

‘‘It is surely one of the brightest hopes for sustainable production and export of high quality foodstuffs to the enormous and growing markets among the neighbouring populations of Asia.

‘‘Nothing in this report should be understood, let alone feared, as a voice against the continued enterprise of our already topnotch irrigation farmers.’’

MDBA consultation

‘‘In both reviews to date, SDL adjustment mechanism and NBR, a chorus of protest from affected communities and concerned scientists (and lawyers), and very prominently from some engaged farmers, united to seek much more and much better information from the MDBA.

‘‘It scarcely obtained any favourable response. This state of affairs renders consultation hollow, and tends to lower the quality of decision-making.

‘‘Something has to be done to change this MDBA habit of conduct.’’

Darling River fish kill

‘‘The shocking fish kill in the vicinity that occurred in the second week of January 2019 had, as at the date of writing, yet to be examined as to causes, results, implications and preventability.

‘‘Charitably, one may not take as a fixed view whatever politicians say, or bluster, in its immediate aftermath.

‘‘But the statements attributed in news reporting to NSW (Primary Industries) Minister (Niall) Blair, that have not been disavowed in the days following publication, would (if they are not fake news) display an attitude at the very pinnacle of official responsibility that is in fact grossly irresponsible. They (if they were actually expressed by or on behalf of the minister) should be rebutted and retracted.’’

Rice and cotton

‘‘Predictably, some generalised concerns have been expressed to the commission to the effect that some crops are especially unsuitable to be irrigated in the basin.

‘‘It has to be said that cotton and rice have almost been demonised, by some, in this regard. The rhetoric of ‘thirsty crops’ (and ‘greedy farmers’) hovers in the background.

‘‘This attitude should be rejected, as so far has been the case in the administration of the basin water resources.’’

Effect of buybacks on communities

‘‘Recovering water for the environment through buybacks is considerably less expensive than through irrigation efficiency upgrades (efficiency measures).

‘‘There would need to be compelling reasons to justify the additional public expense of efficiency measures. There are none.

‘‘The impact of water recovery generally in basin towns and regional centres has been overstated. The reports authored by the MDBA, or commissioned by it, that suggest otherwise are deeply flawed.

‘‘For example, the notion of some proportional relationship between a reduction in water and a reduction in farm production is rejected. It is accepted that such a relationship could be debunked by an economics undergraduate.

‘‘There are many other more pertinent, contributing factors to decreases in population or jobs or farm revenue — these include technological change and mechanisation, amongst a number of other relevant factors.’’