Kevin Rudd’s so-called historic agreement on national management of the Murray Darling Basin has left the States with too much control, Coalition Murray Darling spokesman Simon Birmingham said today.
“An analysis of the agreement reveals just how much power remains vested in the individual Basin States, and highlights the need for true national management as outlined by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott during the week,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The March 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) even proclaims the removal of national management conditions proposed by the former Howard Government as though it were a positive development.
“Sadly, as Tony Abbott highlighted during the week, it has left the overall management of the Murray Darling Basin bedevilled by the fact that still no one is really in charge.
“Unlike Labor, our vision is for clear national responsibility looking after the entire system in the national interest.
“That’s why a Coalition Government will call a referendum to refer powers necessary for effective management of the Murray Darling Basin, should the states remain unwilling to do so by mid-2012.”
Examples, in the March 2008 MOU and July 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), of Basin States retaining control include:
· State authorities, rather than the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), making river flow directions for the Goulburn and Murrumbidgee Rivers
· Unanimous decision of Basin States required to change State water shares
· The Ministerial Council (comprising Basin States) making decisions for State water shares, the Living Murray Initiative and, in certain circumstances, critical human needs and natural resource management programs
· Commonwealth nominees to the MDBA having to be acceptable to the Basin States collectively
· The extension of water market rules and/or water charge rules across Basin States, and the ACCC’s regulatory role, being optional for Basin States
Examples of Basin States retaining control under Kevin Rudd’s so-called historic agreement
26 March 2008 Memorandum of Understanding
6. The Commonwealth will consult with the Basin States on the appointment of the Authority members.
13. If all, or any, Basin State Minister(s) disagree with the cap or other relevant parts of the Basin Plan, these matters would be referred back to the Authority for reappraisal. The Authority would then return the Basin Plan to the Ministerial Council for its advice. The Plan would then be submitted to the Commonwealth Minister for decision.
16. Current state Water Shares, as defined by the MDB Agreement and subsequent MDB Ministerial Council and MDBC decisions, will be preserved unless otherwise agreed by all signatories to this MOU.
21. The Commonwealth will also have regard, among other things, to the following investment priorities: …
– strategic investment to accelerate development of a best practice and consistent Basin water modelling platform, noting that the MDBA will be developing such a platform in consultation with Basin States;
43. This MOU implements sound principles of Federal-State relations by assigning the Basin wide planning role to the MDBA and the Commonwealth Minister, while providing for clear participation by Basin States in decision-making and affirming the autonomy of Basin States to manage water within catchments.
44. This MOU removes the conditionality of the IGA proposed by the previous Commonwealth Government. In this context, the Basin States are pleased that, as an expression of good faith, the Commonwealth has already been undertaking consultations with Basin States about the membership of the MDBA.
– a new Ministerial Council will be established, which will provide formal roles for Basin States in the Basin Plan and will decide on natural resource management programs, the Living Murray Initiative, State water shares and River Murray operation;
– Basin State water authorities will make available water determinations; and
– State authorities will make river flow directions for the Goulburn and Murrumbidgee Rivers. (These two matters will not be the responsibility of the MDBA, which is what the previous Commonwealth Government had proposed.);
– there will be a new, cooperative approach to environmental water management by the Parties;
– unlike the previous Commonwealth Government’s proposal, there will be funding available to States under new partnership arrangements for such things as improved water resource plans, monitoring and enforcement, and structural adjustment; and
– access to funds under the $10 billion plan will be conditional upon achieving agreed water reform objectives rather than the referral of powers sought by the previous Commonwealth Government.
3 July 2008 Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform
11. … Basin States will have a clear and important advisory role in the preparation of the Basin Plan. As stated in the Memorandum of Understanding, the Basin States will, through the new Ministerial Council, have decision-making power in relation to matters such as State water shares and natural resource management programs.
14. The Memorandum of Understanding affirms the autonomy of the Basin States to manage water and other natural resources within their catchments.
2.4.1. The Basin States agree to use their best endeavours to give effect to Parts 3, 6 and 7 of this Agreement by passing legislation to provide for a limited text referral of powers to the Commonwealth to pass agreed amendments to the Water Act to:
3.2.7. State water shares prevail unless agreed to change by consensus of the Basin states as provided for in 3.2.8. …
(c) For surface water in the River Murray System, the Basin Plan will determine the quantity of water available to be taken by NSW, Victoria and South Australia from their State water shares, but not alter the State water shares themselves, which can only be changed by the unanimous decision of the Ministerial Council.
3.2.9. The parties note the considerable body of decisions and practice that determine the operation of the River Murray System, as part of the delivery of water under State water shares. The Authority will continue these arrangements unless otherwise agreed by all parties through the Ministerial Council or the Basin Officials Committee as appropriate.
3.3.2. The Ministerial Council will:
(a) have an advisory role in relation to the Basin Plan as follows:
If all, or any, Basin State Minister(s) disagree with a long-term average sustainable diversion limit or other parts of the Basin Plan in relation to which the Commonwealth Minister has a power to make a decision (as provided for in s 44 of the Water Act), then these matters would be referred back to the Authority for reappraisal. The Authority would then return the Basin Plan to the Ministerial Council. The Ministerial Council would then consider the Basin Plan and submit its views on the Basin Plan to the Commonwealth Minister;
(b) consider and determine outcomes and objectives on major policy issues, that are not addressed in the Basin Plan, for the management of the Basin’s water and other natural resources; and
(c) if sustained efforts by the Basin Officials Committee to resolve an operational management and delivery inconsistency matter are unsuccessful, and the matter is of strategic significance (including key issues in relation to State water shares), then it will be referred to the Ministerial Council for strategic direction.
3.3.3. The parties agree that within these functions the Ministerial Council will have the decision-making role for State water shares, the Living Murray Initiative, and, under certain circumstances, critical human needs and natural resource management programs.
3.4.13. The Authority will have a separate Chair and Chief Executive with an accountability structure as provided for in the Water Act. The parties note that the Commonwealth Government appoints the Authority Chair and the Chief Executive, and that the Commonwealth will consult with Basin States on the appointment of the Chair.
(c) If a Commonwealth nominee (or nominees) is not accepted by the Basin States collectively, the Commonwealth must put forward three alternative nominees for consideration by the Basin States. The Basin States collectively must accept one (or two) of the three nominees within 30 days;
3.5.4. All, or any, Basin State Minister(s) can refer the Basin Plan back to the Authority for reappraisal. Referral back to the Authority requires neither unanimity nor a majority view among Basin State Ministers. Likewise, the provision of views to the Commonwealth Minister on the Basin Plan can be by all, or any, Basin State Minister(s).
3.5.5. In situations that are not of specific interest to certain jurisdiction(s), the unanimous or simple majority provisions will apply to those jurisdictions in the Ministerial Council with a specific interest. Thus, current arrangements for decisions on State water shares will be maintained. This means decisions on State water shares require the unanimous vote of the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory will not participate in such decisions.
6.3. The parties are seeking to strengthen the role of the ACCC in three ways:
6.3.3. by expanding the water market and water charge rules, and thereby the ACCC’s regulatory role, across the Murray-Darling Basin States (clauses 6.15 – 6.20). This is a matter for each Basin State to choose to opt in.
6.15. The parties agree that the decision to extend the application of water market rules and/or water charge rules across Basin States, thereby extending the ACCC’s regulatory role across Basin States, is a matter for individual jurisdictions to opt in.
6.17. The parties note that under the Water Act, water market rules apply only to the Murray-Darling Basin and water charge rules can only be made for regulated water charges that relate to Basin water resources. Water charges levied in respect of non-Basin water resources will continue to be determined under current State-based arrangements, which vary significantly across the Basin States.
7.12. … The process for critical human needs clearly preserves states shares. As provided for in clause 3.2.8 any changes to state water shares under these arrangements is only made when agreed to by all Basin states.
7.15. The Basin Plan, in order to provide conveyance water to enable provision of critical human needs, will, for Tier 2 water sharing:
7.15.3. recognise that each State will have autonomy over decisions on how water from its water share is used, and will be responsible for meeting critical human water needs in that State;