Rebuilding trust first priority for MDBA chair

By Country News

Building more trust in local communities and meeting with local water leaders are top of the agenda for Murray-Darling Basin chair Sir Angus Houston.

Speaking to the Murray-Darling Association's annual conference, Sir Houston — who was appointed to the role in August — said he had arrived at a time of change.

“Having the basin plan on track is critical for the nation ... I'll be doing my best to be part of the solution across the basin,” he told the online conference on Monday afternoon.

Sir Houston said he understood the stress of running a farm, having gone broke as a share-farmer in Western Australia in 1969.

Discussions around the basin have been punctuated by a deficit of trust and a feeling that it does not deliver equally, according to Sir Houston.

“I don't doubt any of this,” he said.

“But I have seen a great willingness to co-operate.”

He plans to tour the basin as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow, with a trip planned around NSW in the coming weeks.

“I want to hear and understand the full range of views of how the basin should be managed. There is a shared passion for the future of the basin. My challenge is to build that trust to do even better and move the conversation forward.”

Despite the announcement the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be relieved of its compliance duties, chief executive officer Phillip Glyde said the body would continue to report on "the good, the bad and the ugly" as the plan progressed.

“Regardless of who does what, we all want a healthy basin,” he told the conference.

Although conceding water recovery was not on track, and questions raised about how they would catch up after Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt ruled out buybacks, Mr Glyde said the focus remained on delivering as much water as possible.

He said work would be done on accelerating the work on supply measures and addressing other issues such as water delivery through the Barmah Choke to find other solutions to meet the water recovery targets.

“We have four years to go. Let's get on with it and try to get as much done as we can,” he said.

“Let's see how far we can get. That's the spirit we'd like to see in communities.”

Sir Houston said he hoped to deliver the plan to the fullest extent possible, rebuild trust, get into basin communities and deliver key reforms in his four-year term as chair.

“(I want to implement reforms that) look after the community, look after the health of rivers and deliver essential balance so everyone gets a fair go.”