Communities throughout the Murray-Darling Basin have been suffering throughout years of drought, while this iconic river system has suffered through not only drought, but mismanagement.
If we are to get a plan that deals with the three critical issues of, the economy, peoples’ lives as identified in the social fabric of the basin, and the strategic environmental assets, then we need a plan that has a wider examination than that done by the CSIRO. This is why it is essential for the Productivity Commission and ABARE to be able to provide vital input so that all constituents in the Basin can understand the ramifications to their lives from this plan.
For three years the Labor Government has mishandled Murray-Darling reform. The Labor Government:
· took 18 months to appoint the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, leading to multiple delays in the preparation and release of information about this plan;
· overspent on budgeted water buybacks, despite having no plan against which to ensure buybacks were being made in the right locations and at fair prices;
· underspent on budgeted water saving infrastructure programs, depriving river communities of the opportunity to return water to the environment while maintaining productive capacity; and
· failed to effectively engage river communities in the development of the proposed plan.
These failures have damaged the goodwill and community support that is critical to achieving the type of structural reform the Howard Government envisaged when it legislated for this plan and committed $10 billion to the process in 2007.
Unfortunately, there is always a sinking feeling when Labor involves themselves in a new critical plan. They cannot get ceiling insulation into roofs without burning down in excess of 190 houses and if they cannot deliver a program to build school buildings without massive cost overruns, then their ability to dramatically overhaul Australia’s food producing region is truly frightening in its questionability.
Some of the concerns at the outset of the assessment of this plan involve a lack of capacity to understand economic tipping points in what is a lineal analysis of the effects on key industries. This initial dramatic over simplification shows paucity of examination into the economic consequences of the current guide to the plan.
The Coalition will make sure that they protect the interests of regional Australia and protect Australia’s capacity to feed itself as well as its responsibility to feed others as one of the food baskets of South-East Asia. We will do this as well as making sure that the Murray-Darling Basin is a healthy, sustainable water system.