Labor’s implementation of Murray-Darling reform is now running more than a year late and might not meet the legislative timelines demanded by the Water Act 2007.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is apparently deferring release of the proposed Basin Plan until mid-October. This will come as a blow to those hoping for certainty for Basin communities and threatens to create a situation of non-compliance with the Water Act.
The proposed Basin Plan was originally scheduled for release in mid-2010. This promise was subsequently downgraded, with a Guide to the proposed Basin Plan released in October 2010.
It was then promised that the proposed Basin Plan would be released by early 2011. However, following immense concern and controversy across all Basin states sparked by the Guide, release of the proposed Basin Plan was delayed until mid-2011.
This latest delay puts the plan at least 15 months behind the original schedule.
Finalisation of the Basin Plan, which the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council had most recently stated would occur by “early 2012”, will be lucky to occur by mid-2012. This, in turn, means States might struggle to meet the requirements of the Water Act to have complying water resource plans in place by 2014, as is required for some catchments.
The Howard Government passed the Water Act within months of announcing the Murray-Darling reform agenda in 2007 and budgeted $10 billion for the process.
Labor have presided over delays and deferral in its implementation ever since taking office. With the extent of Labor’s delaying of Murray-Darling reform, Australians could be forgiven for thinking Labor were waiting until the next drought to act.
You have to wonder is this Government really committed to delivering Murray-Darling reform or do they just see the Murray as no more than a means to make hollow election promises?
The proposed Basin Plan is too important to be subjected to the same mistakes that doomed last year’s Guide. Accordingly, if extra time is what’s required to get it right, ensure all evidence used is robust and deliver a good, fair plan for the future then so be it.
However, Water Minister Tony Burke should apologise for the continual setting of deadlines that are never met and needs to explain how this latest delay will impact on compliance with the timelines laid out in the Water Act.