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Published: 28 July 2020   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority at its July meeting acknowledged the regrettable but necessary ongoing disruption to life and business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly impacting people living along the rivers of the Basin that mark the state borders where strict travel restrictions are in place.

Like other businesses and organisations, we continue to engage and connect with our stakeholders and are ramping up our online activities. It has been refreshing to see how effective these connections can be. In many cases, it also means our staff and stakeholders can participate in meetings and events that we would otherwise not have been able to physically attend, reducing expense and travel times.

Along with many others in the Basin, we look forward to the release of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) interim report into the operation of the water market. This inquiry is the first of its kind in Australia and will deserve the full and considered attention of water managers, market regulators and participants in water trade.

The MDBA doesn't run or manage the market but the Basin Plan, of which we oversee implementation, requires an open and transparent market with, among other things, mandatory reporting of water prices. The market is operated by state governments and we set standards in line with the Basin Plan and public expectation. We continue to support greater transparency and better regulation of water trade and will be carefully looking at the issues identified in the report as far as they effect the Basin Plan and management of the River Murray.

The Authority received an update from Mr Mick Keogh on progress with the ACCC's inquiry. Mr Keogh advised the Authority that the ACCC had provided the Murray–Darling Basin Inquiry Interim Report to the Treasurer on 30 June 2020 and it will be released by the Treasurer in due course. The ACCC must complete the inquiry and provide a report to the Treasurer by 30 November 2020.

It is pleasing to see how water used for the environment in recent months has delivered strong results. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH), Jody Swirepik, highlighted at our meeting the importance of environmental water in maintaining the health of the Coorong and Lower Lakes, especially during dry years. These flows have played a lead role in preventing the lower end of the system from reverting in recent times to the dire conditions of the Millennium drought. In the northern Basin, the success of watering in Narran Lakes this year saw dramatic vegetation responses and attracted multiple bird species to the lakes. This is especially important given northern rivers are becoming increasingly disconnected because of the lack of follow-up rain. We know that additional flows into storages are needed before more water will be available to the environment.

The valuable advice of independent experts, including the committee on social, economic and environmental sciences, continues to inform our approach to major pieces of work. We discussed the comprehensive and mandated evaluation of the Basin Plan in 2020 with Professor Rob Vertessy, who noted the constructive consultation between committee members and the MDBA's hydrology team.

This first of two major evaluations hard-wired into the Basin Plan is progressing well and we look forward to its release before the end of the year. The second evaluation is required in 2026. This year's evaluation is looking at the roll-out of the Plan and performance against targets and will provide an opportunity to understand where improvements can be made to strengthen the social, economic and environmental outcomes being sought in the Basin. It will also seek to attribute the extent of the Basin Plan's influence as distinct from other external drivers of conditions across the Basin.

Professor Stuart Bunn (Acting Chair)

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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