The latest talk of Murray-Darling reform by the Gillard Government must be backed with iron-clad guarantees of results, not represent yet another collection of meaningless words and inter-governmental agreements.
Reports that Water Minister Tony Burke is preparing to hand over more control of $5.8 billion in project delivery to state governments will send a shiver down the spine of many unless they set a new standard for accountability and delivery.
Mismanagement of basin resources by bickering state governments has been the primary source of problems for the Murray-Darling.
Failure by the states to deliver on previous agreements to address mismanagement was the driving force behind the Howard Government’s plans for national management in 2007.
Even in late 2009 the independent National Water Commission was still describing the pace of water reform under state-based agreements as “critically inadequate”.
The fact is that rivers don’t recognise state borders. While states have a clear role to play in implementing an effective national plan these steps by today’s Labor Government must not be an unpicking of the reforms for holistic management of water resources that began in the Howard era.
Tony Burke and Julia Gillard, who have already torn up every promise they made on the Murray-Darling during last year’s election, must guarantee that any new agreements further the aim of achieving a basin that is well managed in the national interest, not a return to failure upon failure of state-based deals leading to the waste of billions of dollars.
Communities throughout the basin expect and deserve an end to years of uncertainty and inaction. They need a good, balanced Murray-Darling Basin Plan that is based on robust environmental, economic and social evidence; and they need for that plan to be implemented in a fair way, by 2019, as agreed. Anything less will amount to a betrayal of the river systems and all who rely upon them.