The Commonwealth and state governments must take immediate steps to implement key recommendations of the draft Productivity Commission report into the state of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
As the PC points out some of the current 2024 targets are “unrealistic” and the process “has lacked transparency”. They run the risk of costing the taxpayer an additional 484 million dollars, according to the PC, as well as proving costly for the environment and undermining the confidence of the community.
This is especially important to South Australia. The state is a prisoner of geography, located at the end of the Murray-Darling. Little matters more for the future prosperity of the state than assurances that it will get its fair share of water from the system.
The Plan can be improved from the inside out, rather than risk disintegration and expensive litigation.
Most importantly the PC points out that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s twin roles as overseer of the Plan and its regulator are “conflicted and the conflicts will intensify in the next five years.”
Essentially the PC is saying the Authority cannot be both gamekeeper and poacher.
The signatories to the Plan should act immediately and proceed with the structural separation of the MDBA, as recommended by the PC, establishing a Murray-Darling Corporation and a Basin Plan Regulator. That would be a significant step in ensuring transparency and accountability for measuring water in and taken out of the system.
It is not just a matter of “water theft” from irrigation systems, but also the issue of the measurement of “return flows” – unused water from farm irrigation systems that flows back to the river, questions I have been raising in Senate Estimates and the Senate since June.
The PC acknowledges that “improved water use efficiency can … reduce the amount of water returning to the system) [p88], but also that “there is no evidence DAWR undertakes systematic assessment of return flows”. In the absence of reliable data on return flows, this means “the realised savings from an infrastructure project … may be less than expected.”
The fact is we just don’t know, but given what is at stake, we should at least find out. The integrity of the Plan depends on it. Public money should not be spent without any real improvement in the future of the river. I still await a reply to my questions.
For further details contact Jim Middleton 0418 627066