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Chief Executive update – August 2022

Andrew McConville

Chief Executive, MDBA

Andrew commenced as Chief Executive of the MDBA in June 2022. With 3 decades of experience in natural resource management, he has held previous leadership roles, both domestic and international, across a range of sectors including agriculture and natural resources. 

Published: 18 August 2022

I am now 7 weeks into the role of Chief Executive of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), and the importance and value of getting out into the Basin and hearing first-hand from those who depend on a healthy river system, is clear to me.  

As we look forward over the next few years through to the 2026 Review of the Basin Plan, being able to engage with communities, hear first-hand their concerns, suggested solutions, and being able to improve their understanding of what we can do, is absolutely essential. It is essential both for the communities impacted by the Basin Plan and for us as the custodians of the plan and as we look forward to how we will undertake the Basin Plan Review scheduled for 2026 

I joined the MDBA because there is nothing more important to Australians than the sustainable management of our water and our environment.  It is in this regard that I see what we do here at the MDBA critically important because we are guardians or advocates if you like, for the rivers.  

In my short time here I have also come to understand that the MDBA’s guide rails are pretty tight.  

In addition to running the River Murray on behalf of Basin states, we hold governments accountable to their commitments to the Basin Plan – the largest reform of its kind in the world.  

As a science-based and evidence-driven organisation, we provide high quality advice to governments about how to effectively implement the Plan. In providing this advice we must be frank and fearless but also understand that  at the end of the day it’s up to governments to decide.  

Getting out and about helps to ground us and really hits home why what we do is so important for the environment, the river system and all who depend on it. It is a genuine privilege to be involved in shaping the future of the Basin and all that it delivers for the 2.3 million people who depend upon it for the livelihoods and for the communities. 

In the month since our last edition of River Reach, I have been on the road again as part of Sir Angus' ninth listening tour in the Murray–Darling Basin. The tour was spent in the lower Darling and provided Sir Angus and I with the chance to hear from local communities who live and rely on our river system and know its history and challenges.

Group of people outdoors, standing beside the Darling River
Andrew McConville (MDBA Chief Executive), Bob Stewart and Greg Hill (Central Darling Shire Council), Sir Angus Houston (Authority Chair), Hilton Taylor (Acting Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder) and Lyn O'Connell (Department of Climate Change, Energy, Water and Environment) at Wilcannia.

I have also spent time in Leeton, Griffith, Coleambally and Berrigan in NSW, Tatura in Victoria and Goondiwindi in the northern Basin. Recently I also joined the Minister on her second trip to the Basin – this time to the north, where she met with communities in Wilcannia, St George and Dubbo. And this week, I headed across to South Australia to see our teams in Adelaide and Murray Bridge. 

As well as meeting with communities during the past month, I have also engaged with all relevant states in several Basin Officials Committee meetings. It has been really useful to be part of the discussion on the Australian Government's 5-Point Plan to Safeguard the Murray–Darling Basin and how Basin governments are working to deliver on their commitments to implement the Basin Plan, including providing water for the environment.  

I sense a new energy and spirit of collaboration across the states, Commonwealth and MDBA to get in and deliver the plan, recognising that we still have some way to go, but that the importance of what we must do is not lost on anyone who has responsibility within the Basin. 

With the rain continuing to fall across many areas of the Murray–Darling Basin and storage levels at Dartmouth and Hume Reservoirs, and Menindee Lakes at near full or spilling our river operators are again moving into flood operations. This means they work around the clock to assess new inflow and weather information and manage releases. This includes close collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology and WaterNSW.  

If we do get a large rainfall event and significant runoff is generated, then there is a significant risk of flooding both upstream and downstream of Hume Dam. The MDBA’s priority is keeping the dams safe, capturing and storing water, and where we can, mitigating floods. If you live, work or holiday on a floodplain we strongly encourage you to be flood ready.  

As we oversee the roll out of the Basin Plan and support governments where we can, the MDBA is also looking ahead. 

The Basin Plan will be reviewed in 2026 but the the MDBA is not waiting till the end to talk to communities and various stakeholder groups as we gather science and knowledge to inform the review.  We are getting out now and we will consult early and often.  We must ensure that we have the right people in the room, and that we are having the right conversations about what the future of the Basin Plan should be – both delivering upon existing commitments and as we shape the future 

I’m under no illusion as to the work ahead – not just to plan for our increasingly variable climate, but to deliver the unfinished business of the Basin Plan. But equally, we will not shy away from doing the hard work and having the tough conversations to get it done. 

The only way the Plan will be delivered is by governments working collaboratively – and bringing communities with them.

Only then will we see the step-change in the health of our rivers, wetlands and floodplains that all Australians quite rightly expect. 

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