The resignation of Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chairman Mike Taylor has plunged the already troubled Murray-Darling reform process into a deep crisis.
Mr Taylor has resigned at the worst possible time, having just concluded consultation on the Authority’s Guide to the proposed Basin Plan but before the finalisation of the actual proposed Basin Plan.
The resignation statement issued by Mr Taylor is a direct missive aimed at Water Minister Tony Burke and the Labor Government. It reveals a serious dispute in the interpretation of the Water Act, with the Authority confirming it has obtained further legal advice to contradict the statements made by Minister Burke around six weeks ago.
Mr Taylor also states very clearly that the work required by other parts of government to deliver the Basin Plan is not progressing and highlights the risks of further delays that will only add to the uncertainty in regional communities.
This resignation leaves a crisis in the leadership of Basin reform, a crisis in the interpretation of the Water Act and a crisis over the implementation of the Basin Plan.
Mike Taylor’s resignation poses many questions that Tony Burke must now front up to and answer. How will he get this important reform back on track and end uncertainty for river communities? How will he reconcile the fundamental differences between himself and the MDBA over the interpretation of the Water Act? How will he ensure a fair and sustainable outcome for both river communities and the river system?
Importantly, will Tony Burke now admit that he needs to progress a plan of how to fairly recover water for the river system, not just leave it to the MDBA to say how much water needs to be recovered?
Though what he said was not always welcomed, Mike Taylor at least fronted up to the dozens of community meetings the MDBA conducted throughout the Murray-Darling. Unlike Tony Burke, he heard the passionate concerns expressed by so many concerned people.
With Mike Taylor’s untimely resignation, Tony Burke can no longer hide. Tony Burke must take responsibility for this reform process that has gone so horribly wrong and he must outline how he plans to get it back on track.