The recent fish kills in Menindee Lakes have been very concerning and highlight the weaknesses of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Those shortcomings were outlined in today’s release of the SA Royal Commission report.
A balance between environmental water and water for irrigation is important, and it seems that balance has not been properly struck, certainly not in the case of the Menindee Lakes.
Too much water is being taken from the system upstream for irrigation at the expense of environmental flows downstream.
Water that was drained from Menindee Lakes also exacerbated the problem. But claims that SA has been taking too much water are simply not true, as no Menindee environmental releases were badged in the delivery to South Australia, as noted by the Australia Institute in January.
Nevertheless, we should not give up on the objectives of the Plan.
The risks of scrapping the plan are simply too high, especially for South Australia. The state is a prisoner of geography, located at the end of the Murray-Darling and to some extent at the mercy of sustainable water management further up the river.
Advocating aggressive and alarmist reform of the Plan - as other politicians have done - risks other states pulling out, which would cause the Plan to be abandoned. As a representative of South Australia, that is unacceptable as it could cost our great state dearly.
Whilst the Royal Commission report is appropriately damning of certain aspects of water management, especially relating to transparency and interpretation of the Water Act by those implementing the Plan, it is not all doom and gloom. The report states “Whilst this work presents a challenge, it is not insurmountable.”
The report concludes that “the decade since the Water Act commenced has very largely displayed the good side of this multi-government arrangement. The Plan has “mostly exceeded what past experience may have produced” is a credit to the current intergovernmental agreement.
I will continue to pursue careful reform of the Plan, and advocate for the recommendations of the report in the Senate to ensure SA gets a fair deal.
For me, there are clear and concrete steps we can take to improve the plan:
- We must ensure that decision-making is transparent and accountable. A first step to achieve that is to structurally separate the Murray Darling Basin Authority and establishing a Murray-Darling Corporation and a Basin Plan Regulator as recommended by the Productivity Commission.
- Accurate water accounting and independent water audits using primary data collection must be implemented as a matter of priority. This in my view will restore some of the lost trust in the MDBA’s ability to manage the system.
- The Plan should be amended to adequately include effects of climate change. The plan should have within it, clear and achievable measures for adapting to climate change.