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Published: 20 February 2019   •   Media statements

The main recommendations of the recent South Australian Murray–Darling Basin Royal Commission effectively propose abandoning the Basin Plan and starting again. The MDBA considers this would be a reckless act – setting back progress towards a healthy and sustainable Basin, and causing substantial uncertainty for Basin communities. These findings overshadow other useful analysis and insights in the Commissioner's report that could improve future Basin Plan implementation. 

The Basin Plan is starting to deliver. Once fully implemented, it will reduce water extractions across the Basin by around 20 per cent or equivalent and improve water use efficiency. This is a huge step for the environment, communities and Basin industries. 

The MDBA was established to develop, implement and monitor a Basin Plan for the sustainable management of the Basin's water resources. While many people support the concept of a Basin Plan, there is often sharp disagreement up and down the rivers, and across different stakeholder groups, about the most appropriate settings.

This is precisely why the MDBA was created. Our role as a statutory authority, fully funded by the Australian taxpayer and independent of any interest group, is to apply the best available science, feedback from the community and our own expert judgement, to recommend to Basin governments the best Basin Plan we can, consistent with the requirements of the Water Act 2007.

The Basin Plan and subsequent amendments were prepared consistently with the Water Act, relying on the Government's legal advice and stand as law. The fact that the South Australian Royal Commission report puts forward a different legal opinion on some aspects is not conclusive. It is simply a different opinion.

The Commission report also asserts maladministration by the MDBA but contains no specific evidence for such serious accusations. We reject these claims. The MDBA is a principled organisation that abides by the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. We demand the highest standards of ethical behaviour from our staff and from Authority board members.

Contrary to claims in the Commission report, the MDBA is committed to using best available science and in conducting our work transparently. We work with a range of experts, consult stakeholders, subject our work to independent peer review and routinely publish our findings and data sets. We are working actively to improve information flows between communities and our organisation with Regional Engagement Officers based at seven locations across the Basin.

As with any science-based organisation we can always do more to improve our work and our transparency. And we are committed to taking on the challenge. With the help of our independent Advisory Committee on Economic, Social and Environmental Sciences, we are committed to strengthening our links with the science community. 

We are already working with CSIRO to enhance our capacity to analyse how climate change will affect the hydrology and ecology of the Basin. This information will feed into the next review of the Basin Plan. We are also looking to strengthen collaborations with other expert agencies, such as the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia.

The MDBA has a long standing commitment to engaging with Aboriginal people across the Basin in conducting our work. We welcome the appointment of an Aboriginal member to the Board as proposed at the recent Basin Ministerial Council meeting.  

We agree with the Commission report that implementing the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism in the southern Basin poses real challenges. We are also concerned that progress towards recovering the additional 450GL through efficiency measures has been slow, and more work is needed to protect environmental flows. We highlighted these and other risks to implementing the Basin Plan in our report card last year.

The ability to adapt the Basin Plan in future is hardwired, as is a comprehensive review schedule. It must be reviewed periodically, with the next review scheduled for 2026. The Water Act also allows for additional review points in circumstances where the Water Minister or all of the Basin States request this. 

We have responded in more detail to the Commission report including its recommendations and findings and hope that those interested in ensuring a healthy and sustainable future for this critically important river system will take the time to read it and draw their own conclusions. For our part, we believe it is in the best interests of the Basin, its environment, communities and industries to stay the course.

Joanna Hewitt AO
Phillip Glyde
Susan Madden
George Warne
Stuart Bunn

ENDS

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