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Published: 17 December 2020   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 16 December 2020. All members were present and the meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The Authority welcomed the release this week of the 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation, a body of work that describes the outcomes, achievements and challenges of the Basin Plan eight years in. This evaluation has involved the science community, river operators, and independent advisors, and draws on key reviews with community and First Nations feedback, and input from Basin governments. It is a robust and comprehensive review that has taken over a year to complete.

The Evaluation shows the Basin Plan is working and makes 12 recommendations to keep this vital water reform going for the health and resilience of the Basin. An overarching recommendation is the need to consider the impact of climate change.  

Authority members welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt of the appointment of Troy Grant to the position of Interim Inspector General of Water Compliance for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Chair of the Compliance Independent Assurance Committee (IAC), Mr Allan Holmes briefed members on the discussions and recommendations from the recent meeting of the committee. The IAC provides expert advice on the design, implementation, and adequacy of the Basin Plan and the MDBA's compliance program. At the 1 December 2020 meeting, the IAC's advice was sought on Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism Reconciliation, the review and assurance report of the Basin Compliance Compact and proposed governance arrangements and compliance powers of the Inspector-General of Water Compliance.

Appointments of the members of the IAC are due to expire in February 2021. Authority members agreed to extend the tenure of the current members until the time when the Office of Compliance moves to the Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment. Members noted the high standard of performance of the IAC and the Committee continues to value-add to the governance arrangements of the Authority and general compliance issues.

A framework outlining how the MDBA will approach the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) reconciliation was approved by members. This will be released next year. This framework provides the Authority's proposed approach to the reconciliation decision, including the role of assurance, and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Authority and Basin governments in SDLAM reconciliation based on the current legislative arrangements. The framework incorporates feedback from the Independent Assurance Committee and Basin states.

Members noted the steady progress to assess the remaining NSW water resource plans against the requirements of the Basin Plan. They reviewed draft assessments for the Murray Lower Darling, the Murrumbidgee and Intersecting Streams' surface water resource plans. They encouraged officials to continue providing timely advice on potential inconsistencies as they are identified to ensure robust assessment and revision of the plans as required.

Members emphasised the importance of bringing floodplain harvesting into the regulated system in line with the Basin Plan and commended the NSW Government for the work underway to licence this form of take by 1 July 2021. Accounting for this water is the first step to enable governments to transparently monitor water use to ensure overall limits are not exceeded.

ENDS

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

Ms Susan Madden

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