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Published: 19 December 2017   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council met in Albury today to discuss progress on the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Ministers discussed strategies to achieve the Plan’s mid-2019 targets. The Ministerial Council appreciated the insights and discussion at a stakeholder event with Aboriginal, environmental, local government, water and farming representatives along with members of Parliament.

The Ministerial Council was chaired by Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston (Commonwealth). Other members attending were the Hon. Niall Blair MLC (NSW), the Hon. Lisa Neville MP (Victoria), the Hon. Ian Hunter MLC (South Australia), the Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham MP (Queensland) and Mr Mick Gentleman MLA (ACT). The Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP (Commonwealth) was an apology.

Ministers agreed that it was important that all Australians had confidence that the rules and regulations governing water use in the Murray–Darling Basin were being enforced and complied with. They acknowledged that this confidence had been eroded by allegations of theft of water and inadequate enforcement of the rules, particularly in the northern part of the Basin. Ministers committed to prompt and effective responses to the reviews that had been conducted to date, and to those still underway.

Ministers acknowledged the presentation by Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) Chief Executive, Mr Phillip Glyde, and independent panel member, Mr Allan Holmes, on the Basin-wide review of compliance commissioned by the Australian Government. The Hon Niall Blair MLC, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Regional Water, Trade and Industry, also provided an update on the NSW Government’s response to the Independent Compliance Review undertaken by Mr Ken Matthews AO and the urgent steps taken in NSW to address these concerns.

Ministers acknowledged the Queensland Independent Audit which will report in March 2018 and the commitment by Queensland to report on actions at the next Ministerial Council meeting.

In response to the issues that had been identified by these and other reports, Ministers tasked Basin officials with developing a draft Basin Compliance Compact. The Compact will detail a compliance implementation framework, including specific plans for improving compliance and enforcement activities for each Basin jurisdiction and for the MDBA, and transparent reporting and accountability arrangements on progress. The draft Compact will be considered by the Council at its first meeting in 2018, prior to consideration by the Council of Australian Governments.

Ministers also agreed to appoint an independent person to examine and bring together the findings of the various compliance reports and provide advice on implementation.

Ministers welcomed the finalisation of MDBA’s Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) adjustment determination, which was presented to the Commonwealth Minister on 8 December 2017 for consideration. This met the statutory deadline of 15 December 2017 for providing the advice. If adopted by the Commonwealth Minister, the amendment will make an SDL offset adjustment of up to 605 GL and see significant Commonwealth investment in state-led environmental works and measures across the Murray, Lower Darling and Murrumbidgee catchments.

The MDBA updated Ministers on the outcomes of the public consultation on the SDL adjustment determination. Ministers acknowledged the need to effectively engage Basin communities and provide more detailed information on SDL adjustment projects as they move into the implementation phase. In relation to the implementation of SDL adjustment outcomes, Ministers requested officials finalise negotiations on a new Schedule to the 2013 Intergovernmental Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin on agreed implementation arrangements.

Ministers acknowledged the presentation and analysis by independent consultants EY on how to design, target and resource efficiency measure programs. EY was appointed to undertake this work under terms of reference agreed by Council, and has undertaken extensive consultation with stakeholders, communities and governments. Ministers agreed to release the report within 30 days of receipt.

Ministers were not able to agree on the immediate implementation of efficiency measures but have committed to further discussions in the new year.

Ministers appreciated the presentation by Mr David Papps, Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, and reports from other managers of environmental water on progress being made in the delivery of environmental water, including early progress towards restoring the health of key ecosystems. Ministers thanked Mr Papps for his service and contributions to environmental watering and wished him well in his retirement. Ministers noted advice regarding the improvement of some indicators and efforts to link cultural and environmental outcomes.

Ministers welcomed reports on the initiatives being undertaken by all jurisdictions to engage with Aboriginal people and to better align the delivery of water for environmental purposes with indigenous cultural values and objectives. Ministers reiterated the importance of more effective engagement with Aboriginal people in implementing the Basin Plan, and requested the MDBA and Basin States to advise on how to enhance the involvement of Aboriginal people in Basin decision-making.

Ends

Media contacts:

  • Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce: Megan Dempsey, 0491 222 306
  • New South Wales Minister, Niall Blair: Evie Madden, 0409 682 163
  • Victorian Minister, Lisa Neville: Jessica Evans, 0437 779 243
  • South Australian Minister, Ian Hunter: Tanalee Smith, 0408 377 584
  • Queensland Minister, Dr Anthony Lynham: 0439 341 314
  • Australian Capital Territory Minister, Mick Gentlemen: Hayden McGirr, 0434 860 282
  • MDBA media: (02) 6279 0141

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