Accountability concerns

By Country News

The independent panel to investigate Darling River fish kills must include experienced fish ecologists with a working knowledge of the Murray-Darling system, according to the Speak Up campaign.

Chair Shelley Scoullar said the panel should include representatives from regional universities and community leaders, with an appropriate understanding of regional issues.

She expressed concerns about the Federal Government’s announcement of a review panel following the recent tragic fish kill events at Menindee, and said she did not want this to be another politicised report that ticked bureaucratic boxes instead of getting to the crux of the problem.

‘‘Unfortunately, through our experiences in the past decade, regional communities have lost all confidence in the Federal Government and its agency, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, to provide independence in review processes,’’ she said.

‘‘The basin plan jumps from one disaster to another. The fish kills are the latest in a long line of debacles; because of the graphic nature, they get more publicity than the others.’’

Mrs Scoullar said she did not believe the MDBA had appropriately acknowledged ‘‘numerous negatives’’ in the basin plan and was concerned about the lack of independence and consultation in reporting and review processes across the basin plan.

‘‘As a consequence, when a problem arises we never get to the root cause, nor do we get the necessary solutions. We have a real concern that the latest review will have the same result,’’ she said.

Mrs Scoullar said the alarm bells started ringing when Federal Water Minister David Littleproud appointed a review panel chair who was already chair of another MDBA advisory committee.

‘‘The review panel chair has also this week been defending the MDBA’s position on Menindee Lakes. The MDBA has proven time and again that it lacks accountability and transparency, and we believe there are appropriate scientists available who do not already have a connection with the authority,’’ she said.

‘‘The government’s review panel needs experienced, independent members who get their hands dirty and feet muddy in the field. They also need an understanding of the complementary measures and multiple approaches that will be required to support our native fish.

‘‘We demand that this panel does not become another government tick-the-box exercise, buying political time until the media focuses on another issue.’’