Today marks one year since the release of Labor’s widely criticised Guide to the proposed Basin Plan, yet anxious Murray-Darling Basin communities continue waiting for release of the actual plan, Coalition Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said today.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Guide was released a year ago today, and provoked angst throughout the Basin due to its poor economic analysis, lack of consultation and absence of any detail on how the proposed volumes of water to be returned as environmental flows would actually be achieved.
“One year on and there is still no sign of the long overdue draft Basin Plan proper other than reported secret briefings behind closed doors,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The draft Basin Plan itself was originally to have been released in the middle of last year, but instead we’ve seen only the Guide and a succession of delays that now has the draft due out in November at the earliest.”
“Basin communities are being given mixed messages about the draft Plan’s urgency, with the Authority’s Chair, former New South Wales Labor MP Craig Knowles, issuing a statement selling the merits of such delays:
The work will take some extra time, but it will be time well spent … If the extra time allows a higher degree of collaboration and joint ownership of a plan for the Murray–Darling Basin it will be well and truly worthwhile.
Craig Knowles, media release, 11 August 2011
However, minutes – released through the Senate Estimates process – of an Authority meeting conducted as recently as 19 April 2011 reveal that Mr Knowles believed the draft Plan was so urgent he couldn’t wait for a delayed Windsor inquiry report:
The Chair reported that tabling of the House of Representatives Committee inquiry into the Impact of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan in Regional Australia (the Windsor report) might be delayed and suggested that if it was delayed, the Authority could not delay the release of its proposed Basin Plan. The Chair suggested that if there was going to be a significant delay with the Windsor report, the Authority could seek a private briefing with the chair on the report’s main findings.
Minutes, MDBA Meeting 30b, 19 April 2011
“If extra time is what’s required to get the proposed Basin Plan right, ensure all evidence used is robust and deliver a good, fair plan for the future then so be it,” Senator Birmingham said.
“However, Basin communities and other stakeholders will be rightly puzzled at why they are still waiting for a proposed Basin Plan that months ago was so urgent it couldn’t wait.
“Mr Knowles and Water Minister Tony Burke owe people throughout the Murray-Darling Basin an explanation for the delays and, in particular, the reasons for their change of heart about the acceptability of such delays.”