Keelty’s basin report cops a caning

By Country News

A much anticipated report into the Murray-Darling Basin by interim inspector-general Mick Keelty has been labelled embarrassing and a waste of taxpayer money by Speak Up Campaign while State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed branded it disappointing.

Southern Riverina Irrigation chairman Chris Brooks said on the group’s Facebook page “unfortunately we do have to keep government and peak advocates honest and they don’t like being held to account, so let’s show them that we are more united as irrigators now than ever before across the Murray into north Victoria from Dartmouth to Mildura all the way up the Murrumbidgee and along the Lower Darling”.

“We will make government manage our resources in this nation’s interest,” he said.

Mr Keelty visited towns across the basin as part of the consultation and released his recommendations on Friday.

The five recommendations are:

Recommendation 1: The Murray-Darling Basin Authority should undertake further analysis of the causes of reduced inflows from the northern basin and the extent to which this is affecting state water shares.

Recommendation 2: To increase trust in and transparency about water-sharing, the MDBA should provide clear and easily accessible information about Special Accounting measures, including the circumstances under which they are applied and how they are used to determine state allocations.

Recommendation 3: The MDBA should clearly communicate the results of its examination of under-use of allocations and compare them with the submissions made to this inquiry so that accurate feedback can be provided to the community.

Recommendation 4: The Basin Officials Committee should consider implementing a single authoritative platform that combines information currently available on the various Commonwealth and state websites, to provide higher levels of transparency and trust and to improve water literacy.

Recommendation 5: The BOC should consider ways through which states and agencies could work together across their respective jurisdictions to include water literacy in high school and higher education curriculums, including Vocational Education and Training, in regional areas.

The Federal Government has accepted all recommendations.

Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said the recommendations had done nothing to allay the group’s initial fear Mr Keelty did not have the background or experience to address complex water issues.

“The five recommendations provide very little in the way of solutions and we need to get the fundamentals of flawed water policy fixed — and this wasted review will not achieve that,” Mrs Scoullar said.

She said Speak Up offered solutions, including stop pushing water downstream to flood forests, stop wasting water out to sea, start using water more effectively and efficiently and implement the user-pays system, agreed to in 2004 with the National Water Initiative and embedded in the Water Act — this must include environmental and productive water.

Mrs Sheed said southern basin farmers would be disappointed with Mr Keelty’s recommendations.

“On the Convoy to Canberra in December there was a feeling Mr Keelty’s job was to some way find water for them.

“There can be only disappointment from those who went to Canberra.”

Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said the government would attempt to fulfil the recommendations immediately.

Although stopping short of shifting all responsibility from the Federal Government, Mr Drum said frustrated farmers and irrigators needed to turn their attention towards their state governments.

“I think it’s the first report that has clearly stipulated the state responsibility versus that of the Federal Government,” Mr Drum said.

“This report again highlights the fact that the states are in control of their own water, they allocate it in a way they see fit and changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan can only ever take place if the states are in full agreeance.

“I think it’s simply a matter of the states having to put their hands up.”

Mr Drum said the states must have a better understanding of their people, communication skills and transparency.

Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt said Mr Keelty’s report was one of three that would ‘guide’ government policies around managing the basin.

“The others are the Sefton Report into socio-economic circumstances among basin communities and the ACCC inquiry into the water market,” Mr Pitt said.