Water Minister Tony Burke took 22 days following his swearing-in to meet with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s chairman, ultimately doing so just two days before the release of its Basin Plan Guide, it has been revealed in Parliament.
The revelation came in responses, tabled yesterday afternoon, to questions asked by Coalition Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham in Senate Question Time about when the Government was first advised of the MDBA’s problematic interpretation of the Water Act.
In response to the questions from Senator Birmingham
I am advised by the Minister’s office that the records show the minister first met with Mike Taylor, Chair of the Authority, on the 6 October 2010.
I am advised the minister sought legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor on dealing with social and economic issues under the Water Act 2007 (the Water Act) on 14 October.
This advice was released publicly and tabled on 25 October.
Minister Burke’s office is unaware as to whether this was raised with Minister Wong.
                                Senate Hansard, 28 October 2010
Tony Burke was sworn in as Water Minister on 14 September, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released its much anticipated Guide to the proposed Basin Plan on 8 October – a date that had been made public well before Mr Burke was appointed.
“What briefings could have been more important or more pressing for Tony Burke than getting one from the MDBA about this critical reform?,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Why did he take 22 days to meet with the MDBA chief, leaving it until the 11th hour – just two days prior to the release of its much criticised Guide?
“This appears to be another case of a Labor minister taking a ‘hands off’ approach to important reforms until the proverbial has hit the fan.
“If he had engaged in this process from day one perhaps Mr Burke could have minimised some of the damage done to Murray-Darling reform in the last three weeks.
“Labor has failed to deliver necessary and promised water saving infrastructure, failed to ensure a thorough socio-economic analysis of reform options and failed to ensure the Guide complied with the Water Act.
“Mr Burke has failed to turn up to any community meetings about the proposals and now we learn he failed to even talk to the MDBA chief until it was all too late. Is this simply incompetence or is Labor happy to wreck the Murray-Darling Basin reform process through a lack of interest?”