A reasonable person would think that a plan for the sustainable management of the Murray-Darling Basin would specify how much water would be used for particular environmental assets and how much water would be recovered from particular communities. The plan released today does neither.
This plan is as murky as the very waterways it seeks to manage. Information has been presented in a misleading way, that attempts to understate the challenge of reform that lies ahead.
The so-called ‘Plain English summary’ of the proposed Basin Plan states that the ‘gap’ still to be recovered for the northern and southern basin is 108 gigalitres (GL) and 488 GL respectively (see Table S2.1, page 81). In truth, once as yet unachieved ‘shared reduction amounts’ are added to the local gaps remaining, these figures are 251 GL and 1,459 GL respectively.
Local communities have simply been told what their minimum cuts are, but these minimums could end up being double or treble the stated amount. Nobody knows which communities will be snagged by this plan.
In NSW the 320 GL reduction in the Murrumbidgee could actually be 640 GL, in Victoria the 344 GL reduction in the Goulburn could actually be 688 GL and in South Australia the 101 GL reduction in the Murray could actually be 303 GL … and still the targets for the Southern Basin won’t have been reached. Apparently these exact figures won’t be known until 2019.
Meanwhile, development of any details for an Environmental Watering Plan has been handballed to State Governments, with an outcome not to be seen for up to three years.
Not only does this plan not say where water will be taken from, but it equally does not say how much will be given to particular environmental assets.
Australians have waited twelve months for a better plan than the one delivered last year, but instead have been handed a plan with less details that will provide less certainty to both our river systems and the communities that rely on them.
I’ve campaigned for national management of the Murray my entire parliamentary career. I’m the last person who wants to see this go off the rails and I acknowledge that you probably can’t achieve a good plan that simultaneously makes everyone happy.
However, since Labor was elected four years ago they seem to have gone out of their way to cause aggravation by dragging their feet on win-win infrastructure projects, bringing forward buybacks without a plan to undertake them strategically and constantly delaying finalisation of this plan.
Now they’ve released a plan that is long on rhetoric but light on detail, which leaves communities the length and breadth of the Murray-Darling facing uncertainty until 2019, while state governments threaten High Court challenges or total withdrawal from the reform process.
In true Labor style it seems that either politics or plain incompetence or a combination of both risks derailing this vital national reform.